Before & After School Blues
Every generation has its own set of problems while growing up. In the thirties, it was often just getting enough to eat. In the forties, it was being drafted or going to war. In the fifties, it was dreadful pressures to conform, Korea, a rapidly changing society, polio, the bomb. In the sixties and seventies it was being ground up and spit out in Vietnam, women's changing roles and other pressures. You get the idea.
Kids now have it easy, right? Polio wiped out. Lots of clothes, food and amusements. No more draft. Just going to school and hanging out?
WRONG! Pressures just as great as any previous generation's are present. You don't think so? What about:
And then you want them to come home and prepare themselves a salad? Come on!!!
Nutrition is vitally important during pre-teen and teen years, when sexual development and final growth is taking place and the basis for future adult health is being laid. This is also probably the hardest time for parents to help their children accomplish a healthy diet.
It's for sure you cannot control what they eat at school and outside the home. But you can influence their choices and provide healthy alternatives. Food education is important, but a good example is even more vital. If parents become a role model by eating a healthy diet, and more important, if they rid the home of junk food, the first steps have been taken toward helping a pre-teen or teen to eat well.
Breakfast is often difficult to manage on everyone's part. Studies have shown that most teens get far less sleep than needed, and get up earlier than they should or would like to, just to get to school on time. Most of the time between arising and leaving is often spent nervously fussing with clothes, hair, school supplies; breakfast often takes back seat. That's unfortunate, because starting the day with a good meal helps the rest of it go better.
If you don't already know this, be advised that toaster tarts, instant waffles, sweet rolls, most ready-to-eat dry cereals, white toast with jelly, a can of soft drink and other teen favorites just don't fly. They are deficient in fiber, vitamins, protein, minerals, antioxidants and other vital nutrients. They can do more harm than good, raising the blood sugar rapidly, then letting it drop precipitously shortly after the kids get in school and long before lunch time.
On the other hand, in most households a leisurely breakfast of eggs, sausage, freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh-baked whole wheat high-fiber bread, fresh fruit compote and so on just isn't going to happen. So what can you do?
First, try to have an open mind. Pizza with veggies, stuffed pita, tacos, burritos, wraps, fajitas, leftover fried or roasted chicken, meat and vegetable sandwiches, yesterday's spaghetti with veggies and meatballs, all are better choices by far than the standard American breakfast. They also can be eaten on the run.
Do they have time but turn up their nose? Be creative. Try pancakes with cooked-in faces, french toast, cottage cheese with shredded carrot hair decorated with a clown face, favorite sandwiches, grilled stuff, yogurt parfait or brown rice pudding, gelatin stuffed with fruit, or something cute that they like. Better yet, solicit their input. What would they like to eat? Grab the more nutritious choices and run with them, no matter how outrageous.
Do the kids rush out the door without eating? Take a plate of stuff they like to their bedroom while they are involved in their grooming rituals; add a glass of real fruit juice, a cup of tea, and any of the above filling choices. They'll leave not only with a full stomach, but with the assurance that somebody really cares and realizes that their life isn't all roses.
Hand them something nutritious and portable as they head out the door; non-messy sandwiches, wraps and other hand-held foods are good choices. Make use of waxed paper, foil or zipper bags. Slip them a piece of fresh fruit. Maybe even some homemade cookies loaded with eggs, milk, oatmeal, raisins and nuts. Pack a "lunch" for them to eat on the way to school. Include a napkin or two.
In the long run, what's important isn't where they eat it, or whether it's a socially correct choice for breakfast. What's really important is that their developing bodies are getting proper nutrition.
The secret, as you can see, to both before and after school nutrition, is to have this stuff ready the night before. Be sure the refrigerator is stocked with attractive ingredients and/or leftovers. Get some nice refrigerator dishes, preferably semi-transparent so they can quickly see what's in them. Have things they like in the freezer, single portions clearly labeled, that can be nuked easily. Keep a bowl of fresh ripe whole fruit available. Stock vegetable sticks with dips. Buy various nutritious makings for sandwiches with whole wheat or rye bread.
How about when they get back home after school? Same stuff exactly. If you have available varied nutritious and delicious "vittles and drink" that they like, they will eat it, especially if no junk food is on hand. Just don't complain when they clear out the refrigerator. They really need it, and if it's good food, it's okay.