School lunches can be tricky. Your teen may beg you to buy Oreo’s and Gushers, but it’s up to you to convince her to pick a healthier option. And that can be a tough battle. Beth Warren, a registered dietitian in New York City and the author of 7 Steps to Living a Real Life With Real Food, provides some helpful advice.
1. Make sure your teen understands what a healthy lunch is. Include foods from each food group: high quality protein, whole grain carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruit. The important values to instill here are balance and moderation. “Grilled chicken in a whole-wheat wrap layered with Eat Well Enjoy Life hummus, packed with lettuce and tomato and sliced apples on the side makes the perfect lunch,” Warren says.
2. Don’t do all the work. While parents should check in on lunch packing, let your teen take the lead. “Studies show that children are inclined to eat their lunch if they helped create it,” Warren says. It will also help them develop healthy eating habits on their own; over time, they will be able to make thoughtful decisions about food without parental oversight.
3. Spice up lunches by adding color and shape diversity. According to Warren, this will keep lunches exciting without adding unnecessary calories. Try to liven up your shopping list with a variety of different fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains each week.
4. Teach by doing. Your teen will learn healthy eating habits from you, so lead the way and make healthy decisions in your own meals. Actions speak louder than words, as they say.
5. Make healthy options available at home. “Oftentimes, my teenage patients would love to eat healthy, but there are not many choices to choose from at home,” Warren says. So, next time you head to the grocery store, pick apples over Gushers and granola bars over Oreos. Access to healthy food is as important as wanting to eat healthily.