Fuel Kids for School
Karen Malouf and Neva Cochran, MS, RD, LD
Your mom was really on to something when she told you to eat your vegetables and drink your milk! That’s because well-nourished children perform better in school. Since there never seem to be enough hours in the day to prepare meals, it is sometimes a struggle to make sure your children eat a well balanced diet. And even when there are, it can be challenging to get them to eat all the foods you know they should. The best strategy is to relax and provide a variety of nutritious items throughout the day so they will learn to choose, and even enjoy lots of healthy foods.
You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and studies confirm this. Kids who eat breakfast get more vitamins and minerals, perform better in school, have fewer absences and aren’t as hungry as those who skip breakfast. If time in the morning is short, keep foods on hand that are quick and easy to prepare like cold cereal, milk, instant oatmeal, frozen waffles, fresh fruit, eggs, whole wheat bread and English muffins. And if breakfast isn’t part of your normal morning routine, set aside a few minutes for a quick breakfast every day until it becomes a habit. It will help both you and your child have more energy throughout the day.
While breakfast is important, it needs to be followed by a good lunch. If your child eats in the school cafeteria, it helps to keep track of the menu so you can better plan for dinner. Because school lunches are nutritionally balanced, you know your child has healthy options at school. If you pack a lunch include nutritious items like sandwiches on whole wheat bread, fresh fruit and vegetables and low-fat cheese. And if he or she is a picky eater, let them help choose what goes into the lunch box so they are more excited about eating it.
Once your child has made it through the school day, it’s time for an afternoon snack. For some it means coming home to mom’s freshly baked cookies. While that’s fine some of the time, also offer a variety of snacks to help meet nutrition needs. This is a great time to get your child into the kitchen to learn how to prepare healthy snacks that will be fun to make and eat:
· Homemade trail mix with dry cereal, nuts and raisins
· Parfait with layers of low-fat yogurt, low-fat granola, and berries
· Whole wheat toast topped with peanut butter and banana slices
· Ants on a log: celery layered with peanut butter and raisins
· Baby carrots with low-fat ranch dressing and a hard boiled egg
· Air popped popcorn
· Tuna salad with crackers
· Banana dipped in yogurt, covered with crushed cereal, and frozen
When school starts this year, use it as a time to make small, nutritious changes for your entire family. Your child will be fueled up for a successful year at school and develop lifelong healthy habits.
Karen Malouf was a dietetic intern at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas who completed a community nutrition rotation with Neva Cochran in June.