Back to school for health and success

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Kenosha/Racine Counties FoodWIse Administrator, Terri Ward

It’s that time of year again when many of us are scratching our heads, wondering where summer went and scrambling with last-minute preparations for the new school year.

A change in daily routines also happens to be a great time to start new health habits.

Strategies to increase overall family health and sanity in the back-to-school transition:

1. Plan and prepare healthy meals and snacks ahead to reduce the chaos of busy mornings and evenings.

Plan a weekly menu and stick to your shopping list using local stores’ sale ads and coupons.

Wash and cut vegetables and fruits and prep foods that will keep well for a few days ahead of time to reduce the time it takes during busy hours to make a healthy meal or snack. Some examples might include making bean, egg and cheese breakfast burritos that can be microwaved, or keeping cut up veggies in the refrigerator so kids can easily grab a healthy snack.

2. Involve children in age-appropriate food shopping and prep tasks to increase quality time together while also modeling and achieving healthy-eating goals.

Let kids pick out a vegetable or two they would like to taste or help prepare. Talk about the importance of sticking to a food budget and a healthy-eating plan to reduce pleading or whining for junk food.

Examples of age-appropriate prep work might include washing vegetables or fruits for younger kids, while older youth can help cut and store products. Remember, as kids learn to cook, there will be some messes and mistakes; encourage them to keep at it by remaining calm and positively reinforcing good efforts and the time you spend together. Keep it fun!

Teach youth how to clean up and contribute to all phases of the meal and snack prep. When my kids were younger, I had them make veggie platters to set out while I finished making dinner. Setting out veggies when kids are hungry is a great strategy to get them to eat or at least try a variety of vegetables. By the time dinner is served, they’ll usually already have had at least a full serving of vegetables.

Keep whole fruit in a bowl where it’s easy to reach.

Challenge your family to reduce or eliminate processed snacks that contain high amounts of salt (sodium), sugars and fats, and track each person’s progress.

3. Brainstorm as a family about ways to increase physical activities during the week. It may be as simple as going for a bike ride or walk after dinner, or it could involve a more organized sport like an extracurricular activity or routinely attending a local gym. Make a goal of getting at least one hour of physical activity per day.

4. Start small with one or two doable goals and add challenges as you see success. Remember, change takes time and patience.

For more information on the series of free nutrition and cooking workshops for parents, contact the UW-Extension FoodWIse Program at 262-635-6824.