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How To Send Your Kids Back To School With Healthy Eating Habits

It’s that time of year again. Time to stock up on fresh pencils and notebooks, and make your kids have school clothes that still fit. Back-to-school is suddenly here—and I know many of us parents (myself included) see this time as pivotal in helping our kids establish healthy eating habits.

What We’re Up Against

I know just as well as you do: It’s an incredibly difficult time to raise healthy kids—and for them to develop healthy eating habits for the school year and beyond. 

Even outside of the cafeteria, our environment is increasingly filled with sugar-, salt-, and fat-laden foods. (Heck, they sell snacks in Old Navy now!) Research proves that when we see food, we are triggered to eat it—even if we literally just finished a meal. Kids are even more susceptible to these triggers and environmental cues, and American children are becoming increasingly overweight and burdened by chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes.

In Your Family, Health Begins With You

If you want to set your kids up for success as we head into the new school year, you’re not alone. People ask me almost daily: “How do I inspire my whole family to be healthier?” 

My response is always as follows: In order to lead your family to their healthiest selves, you must lead by example. 

I find that many parents lose themselves in giving everything they have to their families. They spend endless amounts of time on their children’s activities but little on their own.

By prioritizing your needs, though, you provide yourself with the energy and positive attitude you need to lead your family towards health. You also show your family that taking time for self-care is critically important.

My challenge to you, parents: Take even a fraction of the time and energy you spend on others and put it into YOUR schedule. Look ahead at the start of each week, schedule in your exercise sessions, plan a few healthy meals, and set aside time for a small reward (like a massage or date night) just for you!

Healthy Reflection

As you work to balance your needs and those of your family, I recommend regularly checking in with yourself by reflecting on the following questions:

  1. Is my own relationship with food something I would want my children to model?
  2. Do I put aside time in my week for my own self-care, whether in the form of rest, exercise, meditation, lunch with a friend, or a massage?
  3. What is one behavior I know is negatively impacting my health? (A few common ones: not prioritizing exercise and going overboard on sugar and alcohol often.) What small change can I make to move closer to health?  (You might pencil in just one 30-minute workout per week, vow to follow up that glass of wine with water, or stop bringing home leftover office treats.)

The more your reflect on these questions (and learn from your answers), the better prepared you are to inspire your kids to live healthier lives.

5 Strategies For Helping Kids Establish Healthy Habits

If you want your children to make healthy choices for life, you’ve got to make the process FUN.

First, explain to your kids why you’re making any lifestyle changes you’re making. From there, be sure to reward them for getting on board. (Just not with food!)

To help establish key healthy habits, I teach families a few go-to games and challenges. They’ll not only help you upgrade the actual food you eat, but help you sit down to enjoy meals together, too. 

Just remember: It’s about progress, not perfection! With two kids of my own, I know that sometimes snacks in the car on the way to sports practice are your only option.

1. 20 Minutes To Eat

Often, we rush through meals disconnected with our bodies and hunger cues, which can contribute to over-eating. Slowing down at mealtime help us better connect with our fullness and satiety cues.

Before a meal, ask your kids what it feels like to be hungry, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Then, ask what it feels like to be satisfied or full. Having a conversation around how their bodies register food intake will help them eat more mindfully!

Related: ‘Mindful Eating’ Is Everywhere—Here’s How To Actually Do It 

Then, at meal times, set the timer on your smartphone to 20 minutes. Place it at the center of the table, and challenge everyone to take that full time to eat their meal. 

Over time, the better kids can recognize when they feel full, the easier it’ll be for them to maintain a healthy weight.

2. Drop Distracted Eating

In order for those 20-minute mealtimes to effectively help your family tune into their bodies, you have to axe any multi-tasking.

Ban screens of any kind from the dinner table and turn the TV off in the background. Make meals a time in which you simply focus on the food. 

3. The ‘Fork Down’ Game

If your kids still struggle to slow down at mealtime, challenge everyone at the table to put their fork down in between bites of food. Make it more fun game by watching each other and giving players strikes if they don’t pause between bites!

4. The Fruit Or Vegetable Challenge

75 percent of Americans don’t eat enough fruits or veggies these days—and the vitamins, nutrients, and fiber they contain are especially important for kids’ growing bodies. 

Ask your kids what fruits and vegetables they like. Create a long list of these foods to put on the fridge. Stock up on these fruits and veggies, so healthy options your kids enjoy are always accessible! 

Related: What A Serving Of 7 Popular Snacks Looks Like

Then, challenge your kids to eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal and snack every day for a week. When they snack on Goldfish after school, they can refer to your list for a fruit or veggie to pair with them. Make a chart so they can track their progress. 

5. 25 Grams Of Sugar

Though the American Heart Association recommends children eat less than 25 grams of added sugars a day, most kids don’t understand how much sugar many foods (especially cereals and packaged snacks) contain.

Spend one day teaching your kids to look at food labels. Have them add up the grams of added sugar they eat throughout the day. 

Then, talk about ways you can cut back on some of that sugar, like mixing sweeter cereals with plain cereals and flavored yogurts with plain yogurts. 


Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry, as well as a member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on. 

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