Aug 27, 2020 Back to School Meal Time Routines with the KidsFit Program

It’s that bitter sweet time of year again…back to school! Whether school is virtual or in-person this fall, it’s important to establish routine meal and snacks times with your children. A satisfied belly nourishes the brain, which will help your child focus in class and perform better on assignments. Also keep in mind that the quality of food your child puts into his or her growing stomach matters! Frequent snacking of higher calorie, less nutrient-dense foods (aka the notorious “junk food”) puts children at a higher risk for excessive weight gain. Setting a routine with balanced meals and snacks prevents overeating by regulating appetites and energy levels.

Where to Start
Every family has their own unique schedule, so there is no one routine that fits all! However, consistency is important. For example, dedicate 10-15 minutes to eat a snack at the table after class. Your child may be too distracted with homework or play to want to sit down and eat with the family, but creating a lifelong habit of structured meal times helps your child become more aware of hunger cues (e.g. hungry, satiated and content, full, etc.) and strengthens family bonds. It also teaches children that meals and snacks are to be eaten at the table, away from distractions like the TV or tablet, which could lead to overeating and distraction from hunger cues. Portions consumed will vary from day to day depending on your child’s activity level, but serving sizes should remain the same. Refrigerate the uneaten leftovers for a later time and reinforce that it’s okay if they don’t finish everything on their plate, as well as reassuring it’s okay to ask for seconds. Forcing a child to finish everything on his or her plate or scolding for wanting to eat more creates a negative food environment, which discourages them from wanting to eat at the dinner table and could potentially lead to disordered eating into their adulthood.

*portions may vary depending on activity level

For a more specific plan, visit: to determine your child’s calorie needs based on age, height, weight, and activity level.

Appetites vary from day to day
There are several factors than can affect appetites and portions consumed. Children’s appetites vary depending on activity level: appetites might be lower on virtual class days when they are sitting at the computer most of the day compared to more active days. Your child might also still be learning about hunger cues, which could easily be ignored when he or she is in class or playing. Appetites also increase while going through a growth spurt. These fluctuations are completely normal and it is perfectly okay if they do not eat the same amount every day!

Take full advantage of big appetites after school! This is the best opportunity to serve a healthy snack, as children are more likely to eat it when they’re hungry after a days worth of using brain power in class!

Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day
Don’t. Skip. Breakfast! The proven benefits of eating breakfast far outweigh the convenience of skipping breakfast: improve attention span and cognitive performance; reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; decrease risk of developing metabolic syndrome; and improve overall quality of life! There are several barriers that could easily prevent children from wanting to eat breakfast such as not having enough time to eat breakfast, wanting to lose weight, or just not feeling hungry in the morning.

Here some ways to encourage eating breakfast:

  • Adjust the morning routine to allow more time to sit down and eat breakfast. Waking up earlier can make a huge difference when trying to reduce the stress of rushing out of the door. Always have an emergency breakfast option for those extra hectic mornings, such as a whole grain granola bar with low-fat/non-fat yogurt or a hard-boiled egg made the night before and fruit.
  • Children who don’t feel hungry in the morning might be intimidated by a big breakfast. Stick to something small and light, like a banana with sunflower butter or low-fat string cheese with fruit.
  • Plan the night before! Before going to bed, give your child breakfast options to choose from for the next morning. Although they might change their mind at the last minute, it’s important to give them the option to choose and to reinforce that breakfast will be served.

This super simple smoothie can be made the night before or whipped up the morning of: Blue & Green Breakfast Smoothie

This twist on French Toast can be prepped the night before and baked in the morning: Blueberry Breakfast Bake

Make Snacks Count
Plans always change, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grab a snack for the road! Keeping a section in the pantry or refrigerator dedicated to emergency on-the-go snacks is a great way to stay consistent with snacks without even thinking about what to put together or prepare. Snacks should look similar to meals, but not replace them. Make sure to include protein sources like eggs, low-fat or non-fat dairy, meat, beans or sunflower/nut butter with every snack to keep tummies satisfied between meals. Limit snack time to 10-15 minutes.

For snack ideas, refer to our article on Healthy Snacking. Remember that serving sizes should be appropriate for age, but portions consumed vary based on activity level.

Don’t forget to make a sleep routine!
Another factor to reinforce routine is to establish a sleep schedule! It is common for children to go to sleep later on weekends, but try to keep within an hour from school night bed times. Sleeping patterns can easily be disrupted in children, which can affect their school performance. Adequate sleep prevents illness, increases alertness and concentration in class, helps maintain a healthy weight, promotes optimal growth, and reduces behavior problems.

Daily sleep recommendations for children according to The American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours per night (including naps)
  • 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours per night
  • 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours per night

Learn more about our KidsFit pediatric weight management and wellness program.

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