Americans are in an uproar over school nutrition right now, and admittedly, we should be. I, too, tuned in to watch Jamie Oliver serve up disappointment at an elementary school in West Virginia. As a dietitian, I was baffled and even angered by some of what he encountered. Eating a nutritious breakfast and lunch has been shown to improve academic and social functioning in school, not to mention improved future health outcomes. But having personally worked in the school system, I know that designing nutritious, kid-friendly menus on a budget requires skill and patience. And despite our best intentions, many children are still drawn to processed foods. Yes, school food needs an overhaul; but, nutritious choices must also be reinforced at home!
Although processed foods will always be part of the American diet, parents can improve what children eat now. Start with the basics: encourage children to eat fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein foods, and low-fat dairy at home. Eating more healthfully at home is key to improving health outcomes and improving future choices. What I tell my clients is to keep it simple; start with a nutritious afterschool snack that includes kid-friendly fruit. For a quick and easy snack, try pear slices topped with peanut butter, cheddar cheese, or low-fat yogurt. Small steps do make big differences, so start at home.