Food for Thought

Now that you know what to expect with growth and nutrient needs, feeding your child should be easy, right? As you launch your kindergartner-turned-gradeschooler into the world, you are starting the fight—the war against the world of food influences—and preserving your own influence over your child’s eating patterns, choices, and behaviors. In the paragraphs that follow, you’ll learn about the influences on your child’s food choices: peers, school, and media.


Fearless Feeding

Friendly Perspective Through friendship, your child will be exposed to different foods, attitudes, and values, influencing his eating.4 Even if you feed your child the healthiest of meals, in the outside world it is likely that your child will notice the foods around him, try them, trade, and maybe even come home with new requests that you’ve never heard before! Friends influence your child, and you may become acutely aware that these little people have pull, and not always in the right direction. A family nutrition mantra can help keep your child on course as he grows. Messages as simple as “We eat real food,” to more complex ideas outlining your beliefs about food balance, daily activity, and food exploration, help your child identify your family’s beliefs about nutrition. A nutrition mantra is a guiding light, so to speak, helping your child navigate the nutrition world without you. Getting Schooled If your child buys a school lunch, it On the home front, Dayle Hayes, can provide approximately one-third registered dietitian and president of of his nutritional needs (about 25 Nutrition for the Future, suggests percent comes from the School parents help their children through Breakfast Program), with a balanced what she calls “grounding and representation of all food groups.5 guidance.” “Grounding,” she explains, School lunch is improving, thanks to “comprises the family values about attention directed at food quality, nutrition: the basic sense of what to eat, nutrient balance, and kid appeal, but when to eat, and when to stop. Family it can still be hard to manage when it mealtime is the centerpiece for this comes to healthy eating. solid foundation. Guidance is the advice Packed lunches can be a good parents give their children for alternative, yet these may fall short exploration of the food world, which on nutrients, especially calcium, ultimately evolves into a personal vitamin D, fiber, and potassium, and eating style.” may lean on the high side of fat and sugar due to the inclusion of chips 6 and sweets. A la carte items, the food that kids buy to supplement their sack or school lunch, may also add extra fat and calories, and are known to contribute to lower fruit and vegetable consumption.7

Fearless Tip

Fearless Feeding for Your School-Age Child


If your child gets “extras”—classroom parties, snacks, food rewards, and concessions—these may add too many calories and too much sugar and fat. In fact, kids can receive more than half of their nutritional requirements for the day from school.6 This can be frustrating for many parents who are trying to manage healthy eating. “My eight-year-old is offered a birthday treat, a morning snack, and a packaged after-school snack almost every day,” said Meg. “How am I supposed to keep healthy eating at the forefront when my child is offered these foods routinely?” Helping children decide whether or not to partake in these “extras” is part of a positive approach, but there is more you can do. You can get involved like Meg did. Initially, she started sending a morning snack for her son each day and suggested a list of “acceptable snacks” for the whole class, and eventually the school. When Meg was assigned “treat for the week,” she made sure to provide healthy options like fresh fruit and cheese sticks or yogurt with graham crackers for the entire class. She also suggested a once-a-month birthday party for all kids celebrating their birthdays instead of every individual birthday being another opportunity for cakes and other treats. The list that follows shows ways that you can get involved in school nutrition and make a difference.

Ten Ways to Influence What Your Child Eats at School
1. Develop an open, positive, and communicative relationship with your child’s teacher. 2. Send a snack to school with your child. 3. If you can, provide healthy snacks for the whole class. 4. Get involved through an organization like the PTA! Individually, you can do something; as a group, you can do a lot. 5. Join the wellness movement (or start one) in your school. 6. Be creative and stay realistic. Small steps work better than radical makeovers. (Continued)


Fearless Feeding

7. Get kids involved in setting parameters around classroom party foods, concessions, and vending machine contents—they are the best agents of change. 8. Maximize peer-to-peer opportunities, such as school gardens or farm clubs like 4H or Future Farmers of America. 9. Align nutrition changes with school mascots, the school mantra, or school goals, personalizing health and wellness to the school. 10. Help revamp vending machines to hold truly healthy food items (fresh fruit, vegetables, yogurt, string cheese), not “faux health foods” (baked chips, organic soda).

Media: Need We Say (See) More? The influence of media is powerful and can be overwhelming, but we know you can manage it. We’d love to tell you that turning off the TV will solve your problems, but TV is just the tip of the iceberg. Magazines, computers, portable games, phones (and their apps), and social media sites like Facebook that have surged in popularity prove to be the sneaky influences that are more difficult to quantify, and control. Studies indicate that food advertising to children consists almost entirely of messages in favor of nutrient-poor, high-calorie foods, such as sugary cereals and beverages and salty, fatty snacks. As a result, children learn to request these products by name. Children exposed to food ads request these foods at a higher rate, and healthier foods (fruits and vegetables) at a lower rate.8,9,10 Talking with your child about the rationale and goals behind advertising and setting rules about watching TV, such as time limits or acceptable days for viewing, may be the best things you can do to prevent negative eating patterns. One study found that restricting advertising was only effective in children under eight years old. After that, the combination of setting limits on TV and media consumption while helping children understand the goals and intentions of advertising was more effective in curbing food ads’ negative influence.11 In Table 4.2, we’ve summarized the top three influencers for the school-age child and outlined effective action steps you can take to manage their sway.

Fearless Feeding for Your School-Age Child


Table 4.2
Influencer Peers •

Top Three Nutrition Influencers
Impact on Kids Kids eat more sweets and nutrient-poor foods when eating with friends. Kids consume fewer fruits and vegetables when eating with friends. Kids consume extra empty calories from à la carte items, parties, and snacks. Having more than one meal and snacks at school may mean excess calories. Competitive foods from vending machines, parties, or concessions encourage less-than-healthy choices. The influence of media molds kids’ preferences for less-than-healthy foods. Kids request advertised food products by name. Media messages capitalize on kids’ desire to fit in. You Are the Antidote! • • • • • • • Talk about and set a family nutrition mantra. Plan for moderate amounts of sweets throughout the week. Pack extra fruits and vegetables for sharing. Bolster the health quality of foods offered at home. Scale back on sweets, soda, and fried foods in sack lunches. Provide healthy snacks for parties and events. Effect healthy changes in school policies concerning extra foods from outside. Set media viewing rules. For example, limit TV viewing to less than two hours per day, implement a “no media” rule during the school week, or a try a combination of these. Educate children at home about the methods and intentions of advertising, and encourage the provision of such education in school.



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