The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a policy statement aimed to address ways in which schools can better address the issue of poor nutrition, with an emphasis on a “whole food” approach.
In summary, the statement recommends that parents and schools
i) Choose foods from these food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, good quality protein sources (e.g. fish, eggs, nuts, seeds);
ii) Provide a wide variety of different foods throughout the week;
iii) Opt for less processed foods, according to the family budget;
iv) Allow for sweeteners, salt, fat to improve palatability;
iv) Portion size control
Here five additional considerations that might be worth considering as well:
1. “Low Fat” might not always be healthier
Current nutritional research is moving away from the ‘low-fat approach,’ as we know that low fat options are usually created by replacing fats with simple carbohydrates and sugars. Thus, some nutritional advocates recommend choosing 2% dairy instead of skim or low fat versions for adults and children alike.
2. Sweeter options
When opting for sweeteners, maple syrup or coconut sugar are lower on the glycemic index, so are less likely to result in a ‘sugar crash.’ They might be better options compared to refined white sugar and work well in baking.
3. Re-examining fruit
Fruit is best when served in its whole form – for example apples with skins intact. The fiber helps offset the insulin spike that can occur with natural fruit based sugars (fructose) and has many benefits in and of itself as well. Instead of fruit juice (which is not recommended for children), water flavoured by adding washed whole berries, orange or tangerine slices adds natural and subtle flavor that children will become accustomed to.
4. Homemade lunches are best
Where possible, it is always best for children to bring a lunch from home, which is more nutritious and cost-effective. As long as they don’t contain common allergens (e.g. peanuts) home lunches are usually acceptable to bring. The website “Weelicious” has a number of healthy recipes that are kid-friendly. Involve your child and let them pick out (from a few options) their own lunch.
5. Become a school nutrition advocate
While the AAP statement does outline the role that doctors can play in advocating for changes in school nutrition policy, parents are often the best advocates for their children. Parents can help advocate for healthier food options in their child’s school that are both sustainable and affordable for every child. Food insecurity, the issue around access to healthy foods (or foods in general), is a global issue that permeates our communities here in Canada. With advocacy around nutritious and affordable foods, we just might see a change within a generation.
Check out Dr. La's post on making a healthy lunch for your child - take a peak in her daughter's lunch box!