Most of the time, eating at home makes it easier to choose healthy options than eating out. However, if you are home all day without a regular schedule, you may find it hard to resist frequent, unhealthy snacks and more difficult to take time out for a nutritious meal.
When you and your children are at home all day, follow these tips from Mikie Rangel, clinical dietitian at Children's Health℠, to make eating at home healthier and easier.
Stick to a schedule
Having a regular meal routine can help you stay on top of your hunger and guide your healthy choices about what to eat.
"Once you get hungry, it is much harder to choose healthy foods over quick snacks," says Rangel.
Rangel recommends that your child eat their breakfast within the first hour of waking up. Their next meal will be 4 to 5 hours after that, and a third meal follows 4 to 5 hours after that. See tips for making a healthy plate that's well-balanced. In between meals, when your child is feeling hungry, offer healthy snack options built from the five basic food groups. Snacks should be small portions, include a protein and be offered at least 2 hours apart from the previous or next meal time. Easy examples include half an apple paired with a boiled egg, 4-6 whole grain crackers with string cheese, or a mix of raw vegetables served with hummus or yogurt dip.
Water is by far the best drink for anyone, including kids. Your child should drink water throughout the day to keep their energy levels up and avoid dehydration.
The amount of water a child needs per day can vary based on age and activity level. However, one general recommendation is if your child is under 100 pounds, they should drink about half their weight in ounces of water each day. For example, if your child weighs 80 pounds, they should drink 40 ounces of water each day.
You can help your child drink more water by giving them an easy portable water bottle to drink from. For fun, you can also add fruit to the water like a strawberry or orange, which adds a little healthy flavor and variety. You can even add a little lemon to the water, which is good for digestion.
Include fruits or veggies with every meal
You probably know how important it is that your child eats fruits and vegetables throughout the day. But it's not always easy to figure out how to get kids to eat vegetables. You can make fruits and vegetables part of every meal by:
- Adding half a banana to breakfast cereal or oatmeal
- Making a smoothie that includes power greens
- Roasting broccoli for dinner
- Serving carrots and dip with lunch
- Trying pumpkin pancakes instead of a basic recipe
In addition to buying fresh fruit and veggies, there are also non-perishable options that will last longer. Consider frozen vegetables or canned vegetables labeled low-sodium or with no added salt. Always rinse canned vegetables before cooking. Canned fruit is also available; choose fruit packed in water, natural juices or light syrup. Applesauce with no-added sugars is also a kid-friendly option.
Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than many other side dishes and add valuable nutrition to your child's day. Offering fruits and vegetables to kids can also start lifelong eating habits that will benefit their health long-term.
Always eat at the table
When you eat away from the table, such as in front of the TV, you aren't focused on your food. It's important to be mindful of how you feel as you eat. Being mindful helps you become aware of how full you are so you can stop before you overeat.
"Eating together as a family is another way to establish a healthy eating routine for both kids and parents," says Rangel. "You should eat all meals and snacks at the table with a plate and utensils."
When it's not time to eat, stay out of the kitchen to avoid the temptation of snacking and overeating. If you need to work or do homework, try setting up your workstation in another area of the house.
Get the kids involved in cooking
Make meal planning, prepping and cooking a family activity. This helps make sure everyone stays involved, healthy and satisfied.
When you're home all day, you may need some ideas for keeping your kids occupied, too. Getting them involved in meal prep keeps them busy and may help them be more open to trying different foods.
Give each child an age-appropriate task as part of meal prep. Young kids can stir and mash ingredients. Older kids can help peel vegetables and break eggs. Teens can help cut and dice, as well as help cook on the stove or put food in the oven.
Stay active and busy
Being bored can lead to mindless snacking. By staying physically active, you avoid that urge to snack when not hungry and even improve your digestion. Physical activity also contributes to a healthier body – boosting the effects of your nutrition and increasing mental stamina.
If the weather is unpleasant or you don't have a place to get outdoors easily, you can try indoor activities to help your kids get moving. Try online or video yoga, hold a dance party, do floor exercises together and even participate as a family in exercise video games such as golf, tennis or dance. For children of all ages, GoNoodle offers a free online resource, GoNoodle: Good Energy at Home, which offers movement and mindfulness videos as well as downloadable learning resources and ideas for off-screen activities.
Download a free recipe e-book
Looking for easy meal ideas to keep your family healthy? Download 10 Easy and Healthy Weeknight Suppers to receive dietitian-recommended recipes your kids will love.
Setting goals and making one healthy choice at a time can help your family on the journey to wellness. Learn more about our pediatric weight management programs and services.
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