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Nutrition

Nutrition

8 Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches that Your Child Will Love

Back to school season is stressful for children and parents alike, and parents are concerned about ensuring that their child eats a nourishing lunch to power through the school day. The situation can prove to be frustrating when the lunches come back home uneaten. Rainie Carter, a pediatric dietitian at Children’s of Alabama, offers tips for packing a lunch that will please both kids and parents.

Cover the Nutritional Bases

  • Include protein to help keep them full through the afternoon with items like string cheese, yogurt, meat, or nuts (if the school guidelines allow them). Carter’s favorite tips are to use a whole wheat tortilla to make pinwheels with lunch meat or freezing yogurt the night before for a creamy treat.
  • Fruits and vegetables are important for your child’s fiber intake. “Kids love to dip and scoop so you can pack a little bit of ranch dressing or hummus with vegetables,” Carter advises. For produce that turns brown when cut, like apples, Carter suggests squeezing a little bit of lemon juice over the chunks to placate picky kids.
  • Stick with whole grain for items like bread or crackers, and stay away from concentrated sweets like candy or gummy snacks as these can lead to an energy crash later in the day. “Also, avoid sugary drinks like soda or juice. Make sure that they have plenty of water, and a frozen water bottle will work as an ice pack too.”

Involve Them in the Process

  • Plan as a family for the week’s lunches. “Spend a little time pre-chopping veggies and fruit, and let your child put portions into bags or containers. If they’re old enough, let them do the cutting too. They are more likely to eat something if they remember helping with it,” Carter said.
  • Giving your child options can be a great way to gain their interest. “Let them pick within your constraints,” Carter suggests. “For instance, show them two choices for a fruit and say, ‘Do you want apples or grapes today?” Parents can also do this in the store to make sure they buy what the child wants to eat. She says to stick to the outskirts of the store for fresh produce and whole grains, avoiding the packaged foods in the aisles.

Have a Little Fun

  • Pack a variety of snacks to keep them interested and sneak in more nutrient-rich foods. “Lunch does not have to be a sandwich and a piece of fruit. Kids enjoy finger foods so bento boxes are popular to portion out a few snacks instead of one big lunch item,” Carter said.
  • Get creative if your child tires of the same lunch items. “Some parents will use a cookie cutter to remove the sandwich crust and make a fun shape. If the school allows it, try putting things on sticks like a fruit kabob. Kids love colorful lunches too, so find ways to incorporate that,” Carter recommends.
  • Try making trail mix with your child, letting them fill their own bags. Carter’s suggested ingredients are dried fruit, granola, nuts or chocolate chips.

For more healthy eating tips and recipe ideas, visit https://www.childrensal.org/snacks-and-recipes.

Children's, Nutrition

New Intensive Feeding Program at Children’s

Dr. Michelle Mastin

Dr. Michelle Mastin

Dr. Michelle Mastin is a clinical psychologist and head of the new Intensive Feeding Program at Children’s of Alabama.

A new Intensive Feeding Program at Children’s of Alabama helps infants, toddlers and adolescents overcome problems feeding and drinking often associated with developmental delays or serious illness. It is the first and only program of its kind in Alabama and one of only a handful of similar programs in the U.S.

The program incorporates pediatric subspecialists, technologies and behavioral psychology into a unique and effective system for teaching both parents and children how to deal with these difficult issues. The program at Children’s is designed in a similar fashion to the one developed at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The program at Children’s of Alabama is the behavioral psychology component of the new Aerodigestive Program, which encompasses a larger mission of managing complex airway, feeding or nutritional issues. Program specialists evaluate children, develop treatment plans and provide care for a wide variety of conditions using proven, behavior modification techniques coupled with the insight and interventions of speech and language pathologists and occupational therapists.

About half of the program’s patients are expected to be feeding-tube dependent, and in many cases the team will work to normalize the child’s eating and drinking abilities. The Intensive Feeding Program is also capable of dealing with:

  • Food refusal
  • Oral aversion
  • Inability to consume adequate volumes of food and liquid
  • Transitioning to age-appropriate textures, consistencies or utensils
  • Recurrent vomiting
  • Restricted eating patterns

Patients should be referred to the program at Children’s after going through previous attempts to improve their feeding and drinking behaviors. The program is set up to handle tougher, more persistent cases that require multi-disciplined interventions and are often associated with conditions such as gastric esophageal reflux disease, failure to thrive, dysphagia, gastrointestinal problems, developmental disorders, including those on the autism spectrum and behavioral difficulties.

This is an intensive, outpatient program lasting six to eight weeks, five days a week, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Generally, experts will spend about four weeks feeding a child all meals during the week in order to approach identified goals. Care is provided in a room equipped for unobtrusive observation by parents, other caregivers or health professionals.

After that, parents or caregivers will be provided with a small earphone and sent into the treatment room to take over the feeding and drinking interventions. Initially they will be working with their child with the help of therapists. As the caregivers progress and the child demonstrates consistent success, therapists will transition to the observation rooms where they can continue to coach caregivers. It is an effective way to improve the interaction between parents and children at mealtimes.

The results are often impressive. For example, the program at Children’s had its first graduate of the day treatment program in November 2014. This patient was born with significant complex medical challenges, including significant prematurity (born at 22 weeks gestation). The patient came into the program 100 percent dependent upon a feeding tube for nutrition, but was discharged 8 weeks later without the need for G-tube feedings.

Similar programs have been studied and found to be effective. This is a precisely targeted therapy that often succeeds in improving the quality of life for both the child and family. Children’s program is currently evaluating patients weekly and is currently admitting two patients at a time into day treatment. The goal is to expand the program to be able to treat three patients at a time in the second year of the program and four patients at a time in the third year. Referrals forms for evaluation can be found on the Children’s website at www.childrensal.org or by calling 205-638-7590.