4 common nutritional mistakes in your kid's diet and how to fix them

Photography by Jeff Coulson Image by: Photography by Jeff Coulson Author: Canadian Living


4 common nutritional mistakes in your kid's diet and how to fix them

Breakfast on the go
Problem: If your kids usually nosh on boxed cereal, toast and jam, or sugar-laden granola bars for breakfast, their blood sugar can spike and crash within a few hours, leaving them hungry and unable to concentrate at school. Processed foods may also contain high-fructose corn syrup, which is linked to weight gain. Many cereals marketed to kids contain 40 percent more sugar than adult options. While a fruity yogurt cup may seem healthful, it's chock-full of added sugar, a gateway to 
sugar cravings, and excess calories and weight.

Solution: For a healthful breakfast you can prep the night before, try baked French toast, granola with plain Greek yogurt and berries, or oatmeal, berries and milk in mini canning jars. Greek yogurt contains more protein than the traditional variety, while berries provide antioxidants and vitamin C. Milk is fortified with vitamin D, which improves the absorption of phosphorus and calcium for growing bones.

At-school lunches
Problem: If you empty your kid's half-full lunch box after school every day, your food choices need to be tweaked. Kids can't concentrate, focus or learn 
if they don't eat well. Reinventing the standard sandwich often gets push back from kids, while their school's allergy food list can narrow down options. School food programs and special events like pizza day might give you a day off, but what's served often falls into the junk food category.

Solution: Be creative. Serving wraps instead of sandwiches balances carbs with protein-rich fillings like eggs, fish, cheese and leftover chicken salad. Cut veggies into shapes and include finger foods like pineapple cubes, ham and cheese or homemade mini muffins. A vacuum bottle filled with a hearty soup or a baked potato and chili are a welcome change. Give your kids a say in their lunches—let them choose the proteins, grains, fruits and vegetables they like. And when there's a less than healthful school lunch, send along a nutritious snack or fruit for dessert.  

After-school snacks
Problem: After the kids drop their backpacks by the door, the next stop is the kitchen. Scouring the fridge and cupboards for a quick after-school snack can lead to unhealthy choices. Fast grabs like cookies, ice cream and potato chips contain empty calories, and sugar and salt.

Solution: Kids are more likely to eat a healthful snack if it's prepped and ready to go. Younger kids, who eat more often during the day, may need a snack as soon as the bell rings. Colourful phytonutrient-rich snacks help kids concentrate on homework and activities in the evening. Offer a snack trio that includes protein (cheese, milk, yogurt, hummus, a hard-cooked egg, a slice of turkey or ham), a whole grain (whole wheat crackers or granola cereal) and vegetables (carrots, cucumber sticks, apple slices or blueberries). A great snack leaves room for dinner, so it should contain around 150 calories—more can ruin their appetites for dinner and inflate their daily caloric intake.

Dinner time
Problem: There isn't enough time to get a home-cooked meal on the table, so your go-to is a frozen dinner or a nutrient-deficient white pasta dish. If your kids participate in after-school activities, the family might not sit down for a balanced meal. Fast, incomplete and unhealthy dinners on the run are less nutritious and pack many more calories than a homemade meal. A child's tastes can also be a challenge: Jack might be a vegetarian, while Jill only wants protein-rich meat.

Plan, plan, plan. Use a calendar to track your kids' extracurricular activities. Make batches of veggie-packed lasagna, chili, soup, curry and pasta sauce ahead of time and freeze them. Reinvent the typical high-fat, low-nutrient pizza by subbing in a whole grain dough, a rainbow of veggies and lower-fat cheese. (Prepare two and freeze the second.) Cook a large piece of fish—great for nourishing your kids' growing brains—on the weekend and serve it later in the week as fish cakes or a fillet with steamed frozen vegetables and a green, leafy salad. Eggs are high in calcium, iron, folate and vitamin B12, and are a great option for a fast and nutritious dinner. Think healthy with an omelette, quiche or frittata made with leftover fish and colourful, phytonutrient-rich veggies like spinach, peppers and broccoli.

Do your kids head straight to the kitchen when they get home from school? Try these healthy after-school snacks.
This story was originally titled "Fuel The Day" in the September 2014 issue.
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4 common nutritional mistakes in your kid's diet and how to fix them