In the constant battle home school parents wage to keeps our students alert and motivated, we should recall that scientific evidence has demonstrated again and again that children who eat well and get lots of fresh air and regular vigorous exercise are better students in every way. They are more alert and better able to focus on their academic work and household chores. I am not sure that robust health makes children any smarter, but it does allow students to better live up to their own personal potential.
Some moms, already feeling a tad overwhelmed, struggle daily with the battle for good nutrition for the family. We all know, there is no point in telling the kids to eat their broccoli because it is good for them. Kids don’t care! A few other tricks might be more effective: “pretty plates”, simple substitutions, and getting the children involved in food prep.
Unhealthy vs Healthy
Unhealthy food seems to be white, beige or brown and certainly not pretty – think chicken nuggets, fries, and a cola. The only colorful item on the plate is the ketchup. Tell your children you want only pretty plates on the table. The pretty will be added with colorful servings of fruit or vegetables. For example, a yellow scrambled egg, a slice of whole grain toast with jam, a serving of berries, and orange juice. This is not only a balanced meal, but it looks appetizing too.
For lunch, serve milk and a sandwich with whole grain bread. Serve it with carrot sticks, apple slices, and a glass of 100% fruit juice! Consider a roasted left-over chicken leg, homemade sweet potato “fries” (recipe to follow), a serving of fruit, and a glass of milk. Appetizing and colorful.
(To make sweet potato “fries,” peel sweet potatoes, cut in the shape of French fries, and put into a large zip lock bag with olive oil and taco seasoning. Mix well. Put a single layer on baking sheets and roast in 400 degree oven, turning occasionally, until cooked through and beginning to get crispy. The kids will love them and they are much better for you than candied sweets with marshmallows and brown sugar.)
Keep it Simple… and Gradual
Some simple substitutions will also go a long way to improving the nutritional value of the food you serve.
- As much as possible, serve whole grains in place of the processed ones. Use brown rice instead of white as a supper side.
- Want to pretty it up and make it tastier too? Cook the brown rice with broth replacing the water and salt. In a separate pan sauté some chopped onion and carrot in olive oil (maybe with a bit of butter), until the onion is soft and the carrot less crunchy. Add the cooked rice, mix well and serve. Add cooked meat and you have a one dish meal.
- Buy 100% whole wheat bread and cereals. Move into it slowly if necessary. The children will develop a taste for it if you remain strong!
- Using fresh produce in place of canned, frozen or boxed is cheaper, more appetizing to the eye, and healthier. Most veggies are best simply steamed or stir-fried. Drizzle them with oil or add a pat of butter, and add some seasoning or grated cheese to the top.
- Hard vegetables such as winter squash and sweet potatoes are delicious chopped, and roasted in the oven with chunks of onion, some seasoning and even some meat, for a one-dish meal.
Get Them Involved
Finally, get the children involved in food prep. It is one of the few household tasks they attack with any enthusiasm, and they are more likely to eat food they help to prepare. Children who can safely use a vegetable peeler can peel long strips of carrots to pretty up plates. Have them prepare an attractive fruit plate for dessert. If they want to try their hand at baking, encourage them to make baked goods with some nutritional value and eye appeal, like oatmeal raisin cookies or pies made with fresh fruit.
The entire family will benefit from a healthier diet, and schoolwork will go more smoothly with healthy alert students sitting at the books. But wholesome food is only one piece of the wellness puzzle. Study after study confirms that children need lots of fresh air and vigorous exercise to function at their best. Running around in the fresh air and sunshine is a natural, healthy activity of young children.
Some parents are concerned about having their children outside before 3:00 each day. Perhaps your school day ends at 2:30. Ask the children to help you tidy up until 3:00, and then designate 3:00 until 5:00 as outdoor play time.
The tidy-up session should be designed with an eye for exercise:
- Encourage the children to haul the laundry from the bedrooms to the basement.
- Sweep and vacuum the floors.
- Bend, pick up the toys and put them away.
- Your house will look better and your children will feel better when they go outside to play.
Send Them Outside
Resist the urge to take away outdoor time from students who have dragged their heels during the school day. At some point the mind shuts down, and forcing tearful children to sit behind the books becomes a lesson in frustration for all. Announce that uncooperative students cannot play in the yard today. Since they wasted mom’s time by dawdling, now they must pitch in and help with outside work. Have them sweep the walks, rake the leaves, or police the yard – all big muscle jobs. That way they get the benefits of exercise, but feel the pinch of no play.
Another way to ensure that children do not spend play time plopped in front of a tube is to unplug the electronics after school every day. Shut down the computers, and disconnect the cable or satellite TV. Keep video games on a high shelf as an occasional treat on bad weather days.
- On cold winter days, park the cars in the driveway, and chalk a hop scotch on the garage floor.
- Let the kids play catch with bean bags or nerf balls in the bedroom hallway.
- Play Simon Sez or Red light/Green light in the basement.
Chores = Good
A final thought is the value of regular chores for an active lifestyle. Every child old enough to understand the word “chore” should be assigned one that must be done every day. Accepting responsibility for household tasks and performing them energetically builds both character and muscle while it burns off excess energy. Your home schooling will be much easier with healthy, energetic, responsible students.
Header Image CC lutty moreira