BY MAGGIE BARRETT
With the growing problem of childhood obesity, getting children to eat healthy foods at school has become a priority. Gary Miller, Wake Forest University associate professor of health and exercise science, says there are two simple ways parents can get their children to eat healthier lunches at school: send a healthy packed lunch and talk to children about making healthy food choices.
Miller, who has a 5-year-old son, says sending a packed lunch rather than money for a cafeteria lunch or vending machine items gives parents more control over the food choices their children have at school.
Like other parents, Miller knows that just because you pack it, does not mean children will eat it.
“It’s hard to tell what kids consume at school because you don’t know what they’re going to do,” says Miller. “You could be packing healthy lunches, but at school your child exchanges food with someone else.”
Parents can increase the chances their children will eat the items in their lunch boxes by following these tips:
• Use the healthy foods your children will like which might mean replacing fresh fruit with dried fruit.
• Offer them a choice of those foods: pimento cheese on rye bread or in a whole wheat pita.
• Be creative in your presentation. For example, apple slices paired with a dip may be more attractive than just plain apple slices.
Packing a lunch for children also requires taking the time to assemble it. Miller says parents who are pressed for time can take advantage of the ready-to-eat healthy foods available in most grocery stores. You can buy peeled carrots, sliced apples, peeled oranges, or grapes picked off the stem and ready to pop in your mouth.
Even if parents pack a healthy lunch their kids will eat, there is still the problem of tempting vending machine items and cafeteria staples such as pizza and french fries. In compliance with the Child Nutrition and WIC (the USDA’s special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children) Reauthorization Act, signed into law June 2004 by President Bush, many schools are changing the items offered in vending machines and cafeterias. However, the law gives school districts some flexibility and may not eliminate all foods high in fat and sugar. This is why Miller says the second, and perhaps most important thing, parents can do to get their kids to eat healthy lunches at school is talk to them about food and nutrition. “As a new parent, I thought there’s no way a kid is going to be able to understand what kinds of food he or she should eat,” he says. “But, if you give kids some credit and talk to them about why some foods are good everyday foods and why others should be eaten once in a while, they get it.”
MATH & SCIENCE TIPS
School is now in full-swing across the state and parents are wondering how to help their children do their best. According to Georgia’s Partnership for Reform in Science and Mathematics (PRISM), parents are the most influential people in the academic success of a child. A forthcoming study commissioned by PRISM indicates that parents are more influential than teachers, coaches, spiritual leaders, and even celebrities.
This is good news, but many parents wonder how they can make a positive impact when they aren’t experts in the subjects their children are studying, especially in the areas of science and mathematics.
PRISM recommends these ways that every parent can help their child:
Be Resourceful – Many parents feel like they are not knowledgeable on subjects their child may be learning and are therefore unable to help their child with school work. Parents should seek out resources that can help them provide assistance to their children. Help may be as close as the local library, the Internet, school or community organization. By being resourceful and seeking out expert information and assistance, parents both help their child and reinforce the importance of schoolwork along with emphasizing the importance of how to gain assistance for future challenges.
Open a Dialogue – Don’t wait for a conference to talk with the teacher about a child’s progress. Students will be more successful if parents have an open dialogue with their children, teachers, and school administrators. Asking questions about what is being taught at school, a child’s educational track, goals, struggles and more will give parents the knowledge they need to help their child. A good relationship with a child’s teacher will ensure that you both are supporting the child’s educational and developmental needs.
To best assist children at home, parents should ask teachers questions such as:
• What science and mathematics skills is my child working on this year?
• How does she compare to her peers?
• How can I help reinforce at home the skills he is learning at school?
Communicate that Science and Mathematics are Important – Georgia’s student achievement scores fall seriously behind the rest of the country in science and mathematics. PRISM”s primary goal is to increase student achievement in these subject areas. Parents should show children how science and mathematics are used in their lives each day to increase interest and relevancy. From the kitchen to the family car, balancing a checkbook and figuring out the discount on the latest CD purchase – science and mathematics surround us and enrich our lives in many ways.
Encourage Challenging Science and Mathematics Courses – All students in Georgia need to be proficient in science and mathematics in order to be successful as adults. Even if a child doesn’t foresee college in his or her future, it is important that he or she take challenging coursework in these areas in order to meet the demands in today’s workplace as well as pass the high school exit exam. Parents should talk with their child and their teachers to help decide what courses are appropriate at their grade level.
Create Hands-On Experimental Learning Experiences – Children respond best to hands-on learning. By taking children on educational outings and talking with them about what they are seeing and doing, parents can have a positive impact on their overall learning experience. Field trips to museums, state parks, attractions, local businesses – even the grocery store – can be filled with fun learning activities. By simply talking with a child about the world around them, parents will reinforce what children learn in school.
PRISM is working actively in four diverse regions of the state with partners at the university and P-12 level in each region. For more information about PRISM, visit www.gaprism.org.