Parents trying to curb a child's haphazard summertime eating habits may find help in the back-to-school routine, according to pediatric nutrition specialist Peggy Papathakis, a registered dietitian with the Dairy Council of California.
"It's hard for active kids to stay on a regular schedule in the summer, and they tend to skip meals and snack on high-calorie extra foods and soft drinks," said Papathakis, also with the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
"Going back to school automatically changes their routine, and parents can use the structure to refocus them on more nutrient-dense, core foods," she said.
Nutritionists recommend core foods from the four food groups because of the abundance of nutrients they contain. Milk and dairy foods are high in protein, and contribute calcium, vitamins A and D, riboflavin, potassium and other nutrients.
Breads and cereals contribute complex carbohydrates for energy, B-vitamins and whole grains for bulk. Meat and meat alternates are high in protein and iron, and fruits and vegetables supply fiber, energy and vitamins A and C.
In terms of structure, breakfast and dinner are most easily handled as family meals. Parents can set examples by preparing balanced meals and eating the same foods that their children are eating, according to Papathakis.
Well-prepared brown bag lunches provide opportunities to balance the daily diet, especially if children participate in the shopping and are taught to select nutritious foods that they like to eat.
"Snack time is critical, as children tend to come home ravenous, yet you don't want to spoil their dinners," Papathakis said. "This is a great time to squeeze in a fourth serving of fruits and vegetables."