Food/Nutrition Columnist
Some Thoughts About Kids And Food
Sep 3, 2017 - 7:05:35 AM

( - Another school year is about to begin – new schedules, new activities, new teachers, along with the same old worries about how to get kids to eat well. Though kids are eating slightly better today than they did in 1999, diets of American kids, on the whole are still ranked poor according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Let’s take a look at some issues you might be able to change.

School Lunch Is Too Short: Research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at how much time students had to eat lunch at school and how the time allowed affected what and how much they ate. The researchers found the when students had less than 20 minutes to eat, they rarely selected fruit, which is more time consuming to eat and they also ate less of their entrée, vegetable and milk. The researchers came to the conclusion that students need at least 25 minutes of seat time to socialize and eat their entire lunch. A 30 minute lunch period should accomplish this for most kids. Too much time getting to the cafeteria or standing in line waiting to be served resulted in more food waste, poorer food selections, and less food eaten.

How much time do your children get to eat their lunch? Eating a good lunch contributes to learning and good health. It is an important time of the day. Advocate for adequate time to eat a good lunch at school.

It Is OK For Kids To Drink Chocolate Milk: Many parents and school districts have decided that chocolate milk is not a good choice for kids. Milk is the single largest contributor of calcium in the diet of kids in the US and many children, most particularly teenage girls, fall far short of their needed calcium intake each day.

Flavored milk – chocolate, vanilla or strawberry – has the same nutrient rich profile as plain milk. Depending on the brand it may contain more sugar or additives. These are concerns that can be controlled by careful brand selection.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to giving flavored milk to children. The major disadvantage is that chocolate and other flavored milk contain added sugars. Though this is true, when children pass up milk for other beverages they often wind up drinking more sugar than they would have with a container of chocolate milk.

Surveys have shown that the added sugar in flavored milk only contributes 3% of the total sugar children eat daily. When flavored milk is taken out of the school lunch line, overall kids drink less milk. They do not go back to plain milk.

Most kids who drink flavored milk also drink plain milk. They might have plain milk with cereal for breakfast and chocolate milk at school improving their overall milk and calcium intake.

As parents it is our job to provide the healthiest foods possible for our children but these choices should be made based on facts that are proven. Chocolate or other flavored milks offer a low-cost, acceptable, healthy choice for kids. Brands with less sugar and less fat are available and should be chosen. Eliminating these milk choices, especially at school, may not be in our children’s best interest.

Food Commercials Do Impact Food Choices: Kids watch between 1,000 and 2,000 food commercials a year and these ads influence what kids want to eat. Children 8 to 14 are more interested in how a food tastes than whether it is healthy. This can be a challenge when kids ask for something they saw on TV.

First rule of eating – All foods can fit into a healthy diet. This may mean that on occasion you may have to swallow your principles and let your child try something you don’t consider as the best choice. Use the blue moon rule – You can eat anything once in a blue moon.

OK, what is the end game to all this negotiation? It can actually result in healthier eating habits. If your child is clamoring for soda, make a deal. When you have pizza they can have a small glass of soda. In return, they have to agree to try a new dish or vegetable next time you make it.

If there is something from a TV ad that you totally disagree with, explain why. Use the situation to teach a positive message about food. Tell them why fresh apples are a far better choice than apple flavored fruit roll-ups.

Sugared breakfast cereals are often a bone of contention between kids and parents. Tell your child heavily sweetened cereal is more like candy than cereal. Let them have a half-cup serving as a snack rather than use it as their main choice at breakfast. All cereals, regardless of how sweet, are based in a grain, fortified with iron and folic acid, low in fat and reasonable in calories. Presweetened cereal is a better snack choice than cookies or candy.

Bottom line: For your child food should be an ongoing discovery laboratory with endless opportunities to learn and explore.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:


For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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