September is coming and with it school schedules are ramping up, extra activities are in full force, and the rat race for families takes on new meaning--especially for parents who want to keep their kids well balanced and nourished through it all. We know, it’s hard enough to do this for yourself, let alone for your kids (it’s enough to make you want to crawl right inside your son’s Spider Man lunch box). And now, with everything we know about the impact of nutrition on kid’s health, finding this balance has a permanent spot on your to do list.
First of all, keep calm (don’t tear your hair out). You and about 60 million other parents are struggling to find the right mix of priorities for their families. Exercise and activities are important, but they can also be overwhelming and sap all your energy for proper family time and good nutrition. There is no one-size fits all answer—sorry about that! But early fall is a good time to set expectations and make priorities, before things get out of control—and you’re resorting to takeout in the car on the way to soccer practice.
To get this done, nutrition does need to be a priority. We now know that a balanced diet is important for kids to stabilize their energy—essential; support their developing brains and bodies—always important; maintain a healthy weight—fundamental; and even out their moods—critical! So what does it take to do all that? A lot of vitamins and minerals from whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, will do the trick. Here are some key nutrients and foods that contain them:
- Calcium—Kids need about 1,300 mg daily. It can be found in fat-free or low-fat dairy, but if you don’t eat dairy, spinach, chia seeds and almonds are great choices for kids. There are lots of healthy food bars that can help out here).
- Fiber—Kids need about 25 grams per day and not just from whole grains—feel free to mix it up! Organic sunflower and pumpkin seeds and even popcorn are popular kid-friendly choices for fiber. They also need fiber from lots of fruits and veggies. Raspberries are a kid favorite (keep an eye out for our Shift raspberry bar coming soon) and contain the most at 8 grams of fiber per cup; carrots, beets and broccoli are also high fiber options. How easy is that?
- Magnesium—With a daily value of 400 mg, kids need lots of nuts, legumes, and beans (black, white or navy) to get enough of this mineral. This may be a little tougher, but don’t forget about secret weapons like avocados and dark chocolate to provide a magnesium-rich snack.
- Potassium—This mineral is tough to get enough of with between 3,000 and 3,800 mg required daily for kids, depending on their age. Even so, there are many kid-friendly sources like bananas and cantaloupe, dried fruits (think raisins and apricots), potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkin.
- Vitamin D—You and your kids can get plenty of vitamin D from playing outside in the sunshine—that’s a no brainer. But vitamin D from foods is a little more difficult, especially if you don’t eat dairy or fortified juices. Fatty fish like tuna and salmon are great choices, but not always a favorite for kids. Try shrimp, mushrooms and egg yolks—they are all loaded with D and might be an easier fit for finicky eaters.
So, now that you know what they need, how do you get them to eat it? It’s never easy—and you know, no matter what food it is, kids always find something to turn up their noses at. It’s best to have a plan—remember, you’re the parent, you’re in charge. Here are a few ideas to help you get healthy foods on the table to provide both the nutrition your family needs and establish the life-long habit of eating right (which is better than a new box of crayons)!
Join the Breakfast Club: A balanced breakfast with protein is essential for all kids—so no skipping and that includes you! But you can provide awesome and fun breakfasts that are quick and tasty to eat. Try an egg sandwich on gluten-free bread; peanut butter or avocado on whole wheat toast (if you do ok with gluten), a hard-boiled egg with fruit and nuts, or healthy snack bars can fit the bill on hectic mornings. Just be sure to provide balance with protein and fiber and skip the Captain Crunch.
Meal Time Matters: It is important to sit down and eat meals together as a family as much as you can (this is where you set those ground rules— no team activities or clubs during dinner time Monday through Thursday, for example—whatever routine works best and you can agree on as a family). Have everyone participate in making a healthy balanced meal and cleaning up too. And then take time to connect—share the events of your day. Try new foods, but don’t get too worried about what the kids like and dislike—as long as they give it a try and eat a decent meal—and that does mean the same meal for everyone!
Food can be Fun: Kids will get much more interested in what’s for dinner if you get them involved. This can be taking the kids grocery shopping and having them pick out fruits and veggies they like, or fun snacks like energy bars and organic snacks. With teenagers you can even have them plan and cook a meal (don’t laugh, it could happen). Another great way to engage kids and teach them about food is to start a garden. They’ll love picking the tomatoes and bringing them inside to make a salad. This might even be as much fun for you as your kids.
Limit Sugar, Naturally: We all know that there is too much sugar in our foods and that many kids are still getting too much. So it’s important to keep those foods to a minimum. Encourage natural sweet treats like fruit. In the store, read product labels and stick to low sugar snacks as much as possible. But you don’t have to ban all treats—being the cookie police is no fun and will probably make them more desirable —just be sure you limit the donuts as a special treat. Your kids might push back some, but eventually they’ll get it—someday you might hear your teenager pull a page from your playbook by lecturing her friends on the evils of Ho Hos.
The Skinny on Fats: We now know that good fats are important for the diet, but it’s sometimes hard to stay straight on which fats are good and which ones are bad. Healthy fats are monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) from olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados; as well as polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) like the omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish—think salmon, but they’re in flaxseed and walnuts too. Unhealthy fats such as partially hydrogenated oils are still found in some processed foods and products like cookies, crackers and baked goods. These should be avoided.
Finally, you don’t have to be in the back to school craziness to develop a healthy eating plan for your family. The younger you start your kids the easier it will be. A little bit of advanced planning and a sincere desire to be a good role model will go a long way. And it’ll help develop a lifetime of nutritious eating habits for both you and your kids.
Top 15 calcium rich foods https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/15-calcium-rich-foods#section6
Kids need fiber: Here’s why and How. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Kids-Need-Fiber-Heres-Why-and-How.aspx
10 magnesium-rich foods that are super healthy https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-foods-high-in-magnesium#section1
What foods are rich in potassium? https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-rich-in-potassium#1
Nutrition tips for kids. https://familydoctor.org/nutrition-tips-for-kids/