Do you hear this as soon as your child gets home from school? I know I do. If it seems like your child is starving then they probably are. Most children who are going to our public schools haven’t had anything to eat in over four hours as they most likely ate a very early lunch.

As a parent, one of our biggest responsibilities is to provide the food a child needs to grow and be healthy. The way a parent does this affects not only the child’s health, but also their relationship with food – a cornerstone for their future. Research indicates that the nutritional intake and growth rate of children between the ages of 2 and 12 can have a profound effect on their susceptibility to obesity and chronic diseases in later years. In brief, adequate nutrition intake for children ages 2 to 12 may be reached by providing three meals and two to three nutritious snacks per day.

Young children need to eat more often because they tend to eat small portions at a meal. It can be hard for a child to eat enough at one sitting to sustain him/her without the major peaks and dips in energy levels that can occur with long periods between meals. Not only is grazing nutritionally beneficial for your child, it is also proven to be good for his/her brain! Research has shown that a child’s thinking and even behavior is improved when they snack several times throughout the day instead of eating larger meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Interestingly, most young children also know to eat only what they need and will not overeat if given the choice to eat small portions throughout the day. The Purpose of Snacks

Kids are growing and have high calorie needs, which snacks can help meet by providing nourishment between meals. Typically, a child should eat two to three snacks a day. Choose foods that contain protein for growth, iron for blood, and calcium for bones. Fiber and vitamins A and C are also important nutrients to get. This does not mean that the occasional “junk food” snack is forbidden – just be sure there is a balance of good food eaten by your child. I know I can remember my parents saying “you can have your ice cream once you finish your peas.” But it is never good to use a favored food to bribe a child to eat a more unpopular food. This simply serves to reinforce a child’s like for the food used to bribe them (the ice cream) and result in them disliking even more the food they are being encouraged to eat.

In conclusion, can we do anything about our kids starving while they are at school? Probably not, unless some policies change, but we can encourage them to eat a well-balanced breakfast before school. Send them to school with a lunch that you know they will eat. I know I always check the lunchroom menu each day so I send lunches on days I know my child will be less likely to eat the food that is served and let her eat in the lunchroom on the days I know they are having a meal she will enjoy.

It may be tiring for multi-tasking, working parents in a busy modern family to keep this routine up, but don’t resort to letting your children grab the easiest thing they can get – a bag of chips, cookies, and fast food. Constantly remind yourself that providing a well-balanced range of nutritious foods will ensure their healthy growth and development. It will lay the foundation for the healthy teen- and adult-eating patterns essential for avoiding the chronic diseases currently on the increase in this country.

Lynn Pass is owner of The Gym in Oneonta. She holds
a bachelor’s degree in Health and Human Performance
from Auburn University and personal training and
aerobic certifications in ACE, AFFA, and ACSM.