Back to School Nutrition: Strategies to Help Parents Fill Gaps in Kids’ Diets
By Steve Amoils, MD
As we get ready to get back to school during this difficult time of a partially treated pandemic, parents will be faced with one additional problem: How do we get kids to eat delicious and nutritious meals without breaking the bank or their parents’ psyche?
It is important to realize two factors: kids are not interested in the health content of foods, nor in when or how much you think they should eat. Their appetites are governed by factors such as how much they are growing that particular day, and how physically busy they are. Studies have confirmed what parents have noticed for ages: Kids might love a food one moment, then shun it the next. Their appetites similarly may be huge and then fall away. This is governed by their own internal self-regulation, and for us to impose some time or calorie content is often futile.
Remember that kids just want to PLAY! Play is defined as engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. If we remember this, we can enroll kids into games where they learn to choose healthy options. It is all too easy for parents to slip into the fast-food, high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt, happy-meal Standard American Diet (SAD). Remember that kids engage in what we call “magical thinking.” Playing games that conjure up happiness will help parents align goals to help them play, all the while learning to improve their nutrition.
It is never too late to improve kids’ diets, and this is an ongoing process. Our job as physicians is to empower children from an early age to make wise and healthy choices that will support full vitality living well into adulthood.
Here are some helpful recommendations to share with your patients, both parents and kids:
Teach the “Three Bites Rule.” Kids usually want to eat sugary things first. They instinctively know that sugar will give them energy to burn. We want to both teach them the discipline to hold on this impulse, while simultaneously getting them to eat nutritious foods. The Three Bites Rule mandates that they need to eat three bites of a healthy food chosen by their parent before moving onto what they perceive to be their treat food. Even then, the treat food can be healthy–such as fruit, peanut butter with honey or some other nutritious food, rather than a sugary snack laden with colorings, flavorings or preservatives.
Teach kids early about fast foods and highly refined, chemical-laden foods. My wife Sandi was wonderful at doing this with our kids when they were young…she simply called these foods “artificials.” Often our kids would go out with their grandparents or friends and bring a smile to their faces when they politely asked if any of the foods they were being served had “artificials” in them.
Teach kids to “Eat the Alphabet.” The Eatable Alphabet was developed by the ChopChop Family in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight. The Eatable Alphabet teaches kids ages 2-6 that cooking food is fun. They supply colorful cards that help kids identify foods and learn to love them. An alternative for older kids is to teach them to eat the colors of the rainbow.
Find resources online. I recommend superhealthykids.com, or for gluten/dairy free options, silvanaskitchen.com. For picky eaters, I like the book, Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld, or search “Deceptively Delicious” on jessicaseinfeld.com.
The Bottom Line
In addition to this list, I also suggest supplementing kids’ nutrition. Doses will vary according to age and weight, but good starting point is:
Vitamin D drops
A chewable multivitamin, free of “artificials”
A probiotic, chewable or powder
A fish oil supplement containing DHA, which important for brain growth and development
Consider an immune booster with propolis, echinacea and natural vitamin C
For phytonutrients, consider a smoothie with vegetables, fruits, protein powder and blended green powder
Wishing everyone a safe, healthy, and happy return to school!
Steve Amoils, MD
Steve Amoils is the Co-Medical Director of the Alliance Integrative Medicine (AIM) in Cincinnati, together with his wife Sandi Amoils, MD. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Education at the University of Cincinnati and President of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, and has been practicing Functional Medicine since 2000. He has received numerous awards for his achievements, including America’s Top Doctor in Family Medicine and Cincy Top Doctor yearly since 2007.
Trained in South Africa, London, and then in the United States, Steve is a board-certified family physician. After completing medical training in South Africa in 1984, he and Sandi spent two years traveling around the world, studying various indigenous medical systems. In 1987 they immigrated to the US, where they ultimately both practiced as family physicians in Cincinnati. In 1999, at the behest of a large hospital group, they opened Alliance Integrative Medicine to offer patients a comprehensive, personalized, integrative approach to medicine. AIM has been recognized nationally as a leading center in integrative medicine since 2004, and Dr. Amoils has been a site investigator on three major national studies on integrative medicine. AIM averages approximately 30,000 patient visits per year. Alliance Integrative Medicine offers an accredited physician fellowship training program in integrative medicine.
Through the nonprofit Integrative Medicine Foundation, the Amoils are active in research, education and overseeing the Get Well program for the underserved. Steve and Sandi are co-authors of Get Well & Stay Well – Optimal Health through Transformational Medicine. The book expounds on their philosophy of helping patients transform illness into wellness through the best of conventional medicine, functional medicine and integrative therapeutic options.