Portions that are too big
VikiVector/ShutterstockLarge portions overwhelm children, and they'll either stop after a few bites or end up overeating. "An appropriate serving size for a child is about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of any one food," says Sophie Trahan, RD. To manage portion sizes, try using a Bento box or several 4-ounce containers. "Using small containers is a great way to provide the correct portion size as well as variety of food," she says. Here are some genius portion control tricks.
Pushing the fruit pouches
VikiVector/ShutterstockFruit pouches seem like a convenient way to get a picky eater to eat more fruits and veggies, but not only can they be loaded with sugar and other ingredients, they don't allow kids to chew their food as they normally would. "In their natural state, fruits provide fiber and a feeling of satiety (or fullness), not to mention an opportunity to develop the muscles important to chewing," says Trahan. "These benefits are missing in the purees in pouches." Instead of fruit pouches, provide bite size pieces of fruits that a child can manage with their fingers or a utensil. Here are the healthiest fruits to include in your kid's lunch.
Not adding enough veggies
VikiVector/ShutterstockIt's tempting to fill up a lunch box with processed snack items since kids like them, they come pre-portioned, and are quick and easy, but this means your kids' meals could be missing out on key nutrients. "Although there are some healthier snack options on the market now, it's important to still strive to give our kids lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and help them understand from a young age that those are an integral part of a healthy diet and should be present at every meal," says Autumn Ehsaei, MS, RDN, LDN. To make sure you're including enough vegetables, focus on whole foods as the base, and opt for the most filling vegetables you can find.
Making the same lunch every day
VikiVector/ShutterstockKids don't like to eat the same thing every day, and their food might end up in the trash if they're sick of eating it. "It's easy to fall into a pattern of serving the same peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for lunch, but challenge yourself to mix it up," says Ehsaei. "Provide lots of colors in fruits and vegetables, and get creative with your options. Even a simple swap from a peanut butter and jelly to a peanut butter and banana sandwich will provide something different for your child, while increasing their fiber intake and providing less added sugar." Here's how experts create the perfect PB&J.
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Including juice and sugary drinks
VikiVector/Shutterstock'Sugary drinks are empty calories, and they are a lot of empty calories for a little person," says Trahan. "Large amounts of sugar in drinks are rapidly absorbed, leading to a burst of energy making it hard to sit still and pay attention. That burst of energy is short-lived, and now the child is too tired to be attentive." Instead of soda, fruit juices, or sports drinks, send water to keep your child hydrated. "Water has been shown to have a calming effect and also help minimize feelings of stress and anxiety," she says. Are you still drinking diet soda? Here are 10 reasons to stop.
Going overboard on the carbs
VikiVector/ShutterstockIt's easy to include too many refined carbohydrates: Think pasta, crackers, cookies, chips, etc. "One serving of one of these foods is fine, but too many at a meal will lead to a short-lived energy surge and a resulting tired feeling," says Trahan. Instead, pack more complex carbohydrates, including fruits, veggies, and whole grain breads and crackers.
Skimping on the protein
VikiVector/ShutterstockGoing too carb-heavy can often mean leaving out protein. "Protein stabilizes blood sugar levels and improves your child's ability to learn and concentrate," says Strahan. Opt for more foods like cheese, almonds, nut butters, and Greek yogurt, which are all high in protein to keep your child chugging along with energy throughout the day. Here are some other healthy ways to load up on lean protein.
Buying pre-packaged lunches
ONYXprj/Shutterstock"It has become very easy to grab a case of pre-portioned items to throw into a paper bag," says Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE. For these foods, it's important to check out the ingredient list. "Is the food really healthy, or is this a case of advertising at its best?"
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Not including your kids in the process
VikiVector/ShutterstockIt's important for kids to understand what they're eating and why—not to mention it's healthy for them to feel like they have a say in what they're ingesting. Make a plan with your kids to assemble their lunches together. "This is a great opportunity for family conversation while tasking," says Braslow. "Have fun and be silly while in the kitchen rather than acting like it is a drudgery. Don't forget the original fast foods are fruits and vegetables." Think apples, tangerines, bananas, grapes, cherries, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, etc.
Not allowing an occasional treat
VikiVector/Shutterstock"Kids like food choices, and studies show that super strict parenting around nutrition usually doesn't work out very well," says Braslow. "Teach your kids the importance of moderation with foods. Occasionally having a small candy bar in your lunch is fine. Perhaps Friday could be the special treat day, just not every day."