OTTUMWA — Parents preparing their kids for the first week of school can be tough. Preparing healthy lunches their kids want to eat may be tougher.
Even Dietitian Becky Graeve understands how hard it can be to choose healthy options for kids or eat healthy.
“Nutritious eating is not like a light switch that you flip on and off,” Graeve said. “It’s a gradual process of refining our habits and choices and becoming healthy over time. It’s more of a long distance goal than it is a one-time effort. Even I have to continue to refine and work on (healthy eating).”
Although there can be challenges in eating healthy, Graeve said it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
On Tuesday at Hy-vee South, Graeve stood behind a table handing out samples of cereal and was ready to speak with shoppers who had questions about healthy eating or preparing healthy lunches for themselves or for their children.
Graeve has done this for three years, even giving out healthy eating worksheets for parents unsure of where to begin. “I think that’s a list to use as a starting point with your kids,” Graeve said. “You can sit down and make a list of different kinds of things they like. It’s nice to rotate (food options) so kids don’t get bored of the same thing.”
Graeve really does believe the “sky is the limit” when it comes to preparing lunches for adventurous eaters and even for the pickiest.
“Maybe it’s using a whole grain bread or have them pick two fruits and two vegetables they like. Sneak in something for them to taste and add it in their lunch boxes,” she said. “My kids, for example, like the replica of the pizza Lunchables. They have the whole grain pita bread and put tomato sauce and cheese on top. Parents can also try that.”
Graeve said that although parents should guide their children in helping them make healthy choices, kids should have the option of creating their own healthy lunches. “You see a greater success in having the kids pick out their lunch,” she said. “You let them have choices, but set limits at the same time.”
Limits don’t have to make lunches not taste good. “There’s a place for everything,” Graeve said. “Just because we’re packing healthy things in the lunch doesn’t mean we are going to omit the fun. Kids can still have treats with their lunches.”
There are even options for lower-income families who cannot afford fresh produce to make healthy lunches for their children. “I definitely recommend shopping the sales,” she said. “It decreases your variety choices; it’s economical, but there’s still great choices in the fruit and vegetable aisle.”
Graeve said healthy eating doesn’t just benefit the children. It also benefits the parents. “We can do this for our lunches for work — to make sure our lunches are complete,” Graeve said. “When our kids see us do that, they’re going to want to emulate that or copy their parents. Really that’s the secret to getting your kids to eat more foods is for the parents to have a well-rounded diet.”
Graeve said the food kids choose to eat do affect their school performance and life. She also said that healthy eating is a lot more important than people realize.
“The impact of being well-nourished on our brains for learning is so key,” Graeve said. “A kid who’s not fed well is going to struggle to pay attention in class and learn. Parents want their kids to get the most out of school.”
Chiara Romero can be reached at email@example.com.