(BPT) - As children across the country head back to school, life for families becomes a little more hectic. Just because days are busy, don't let nutrition fall by the wayside. Teaching children nutritious eating habits now can mean a lifetime of health, plus it can be a lot of fun to eat, laugh and spend time together.
"The more parents can do to involve children in the process, the decisions on what they are eating and where their food comes from, the better off they will be at helping them learn reverence and appreciation for food," says Anni Daulter, professional cook, nutrition expert, and author of several books, including "The Organic Family Cookbook."
Here are some simple yet effective tips from Daulter to get your kids excited about nutrition and help them make good food choices:
1. Make mealtime special
"In our fast-paced lives, we have somehow lost the concept that eating is not just about the actual food. It's about the connection, the time spent enjoying every bite, laughing, talking and sharing. Our families need this time together," Daulter says.
Create a routine. Consider starting dinner at a similar time each night. Designate different nights for different types of meals, such as vegetarian Monday, or make-your-own pizza Saturdays. Have children help with the meal prep and cleanup, if age-appropriate. Light a candle during dinner, and allocate plenty of time for conversation - it's one of the best ways to bond with loved ones.
2. Adopt a healthy morning routine
While most families are time-crunched on weekday mornings, it's important to make time for breakfast so kids get the nutrition they need before heading to school. Healthy breakfasts incorporate whole grains, protein, fresh fruit, and supplements that support brain and body health.
"Supplements can be an easy way for mom and dad to ensure that their children get the important nutrients they need, especially during busy mornings," says Daulter. "I recommend giving kids a boost of brain-building nutrition with a kid-friendly omega-3 supplement. I like chewable, strawberry-flavored Nordic Naturals Children's DHA. This essential nutrient is brain food, proven to support brain growth and health. Additionally, omega-3s support a healthy immune and nervous system, too."
3. Create tasty school lunches
"When your children are fed better, they learn better," says Daulter. "Their bodies react to being fed good pure foods that give them the fuel they need to get through each and every school day."
Save time by making lunches the night before or do a big Sunday cut-and-chop day for raw ingredients throughout the week. Here is a sample of what you'll find in Daulter's children's lunch baskets:
Black Bean Soup Lunch * Classic Caesar salad * Homemade wheat parmesan chips * Raw: Asian pears and clementines
4. Have healthy snacks on hand
"Kids bodies tend to be more in tune with their internal signals and they inherently seem to know that they need more little meals throughout the day, rather than three big meals," Daulter says. "Eating smaller portions frequently throughout the day provides more energy when we need it and is easier for our bodies to digest."
Daulter keeps several small kids tables throughout the house so her children can nibble on snacks while they continue to play. What sorts of things does she like to feed her kids for snacks? Nuts, homemade fruit roll-ups, pumpkin seeds, veggie popcorn, fresh fruits, carrot sticks, and cheese are all healthful snacks that keep kids' bellies full.
5. Teach healthy eating habits through activity
"My kids and their friends love to cook and help us prepare meals, and the more we include them in the process, the more invested they become in their own health," says Daulter.
You may be surprised by how excited your children get by being involved in the entire meal process. When you go to the grocery store or farmers market, have children help pick out veggies. If you grow your own, let them pick the produce and help wash, peel and prep it for meals.
"Even the youngest child can help mix in flour for fresh bread or learn to whip her own honey butter," says Daulter. "These tasty teachings will not only give them practical and valuable life skills, but will leave them with loving memories of family cooking days that were spent laughing, creating, and of course, eating!"
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