Back to School Tips for Healthy Eating
DURHAM, N.C. – With kids heading back to school and teens leaving for college, Duke Medicine experts say now is the time for parents and children to discuss healthy eating habits.
For children, counting fat grams and calories isn't as important as watching portions and making healthy choices, said Terrill Bravender, M.D., a pediatrician with the Center for Nutritional Disorders and Obesity at Duke Children's Hospital and Health Center. "You don't have to be obsessive about it. If you generally eat healthy, there is room for some foods that aren't as healthy," he said.
To pack more nutrition into the lunchbox, Bravender recommends that parents involve kids in the planning. "Sit down together and talk about what they might like for lunch. If you involve them and use some of their choices, they're more likely to eat it," he said.
"Parents should encourage their children to eat a wide variety of foods so that their kids do not end up eating the same things every day. Parents should also examine their own attitudes toward new foods. Because kids are great imitators, parents open to trying new foods tend to have kids open to trying new foods," Bravender added.
Children can also learn to help prepare their own lunches and after-school snacks, Bravender said. Easy-to-make ideas include graham crackers with peanut butter and a glass of milk; fresh fruit with cheese cubes; a hard boiled egg with whole grain crackers; yogurt with a sliced banana; granola bars with milk; or tortilla chips and bean dip made without hydrogenated oils.
Older students transitioning to college face a different battle – total freedom and control over their food intake. "College can present challenges as students adjust to living away from family, negotiating new relationships and coping with academic pressures," said Nancy Zucker, Ph.D., head of Duke's Eating Disorders program. "The transition is especially tough for teens with eating disorders, and individuals predisposed to eating disorders may use food and exercise to feel control over their life."
University life can also exacerbate social pressures to achieve a perfect body because college students eat, sleep and work with their peers, which presents endless opportunities to compare oneself to others, Zucker said.
Zucker offers an interactive nutrition workshop for students with eating issues going away to college for the first time. The topics include navigating the world of all-you-can eat dining halls; coping with college eating challenges; the freshman 15; and ideas for quick and healthy meals in the dorm.