The school bell is ringing and it is time for the kids to go back to school. Many parents are shouting yeah! and others are shedding tears.
One thing is true for all of us and that is, we want our kids to be healthy this school year and eat well while they are away from home as well as at home.
As we celebrate Kids Eat Right Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics program to focus the spotlight on healthy nutrition and active lifestyles for children and families, let’s find out more about how our kids food choices at home and at school impact their health.
Good nutrition has been shown to help children succeed in school. Research tells us that breakfast is vital in their school success both in academic performance and behavior. Kids who eat breakfast have fewer absences, higher test scores, better concentration and improved muscle coordination too!
Unfortunately, a recent survey by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation finds that breakfast isn’t eaten all of the time by 42% of Caucasian and Hispanic children and 59% of African American children. That is pretty startling when you consider how important it is to fuel up for the day.
Because getting the day started with a nutritious breakfast is so important to school success, here are several strategies that you and your family can try to be sure that every day starts off right.
- Be prepared ahead of time by getting things ready the night before and avoid the morning time crunch. Once you decide what your meal will be, get out the nonperishable ingredients and put them on the counter so they are at your fingertips in the hustle of the morning. Include cooking pans, plates and utensils. This will definitely save time and reduce last minute decisions about what to make.
- Each morning doesn’t need to include a five course hot meal — it can be simple. Easy breakfast items include a bowl of cereal, fruited yogurt or yogurt parfait, hard-boiled egg already cooked, smoothies, fresh fruit and cheese chunks or a stuffed pita pocket.
- If you need a grab-and-go breakfast, incorporate items such as breakfast burritos (see recipe below), yogurt sticks, trail mix, and homemade cereal bars (recipe below). Add to that a cup of low fat milk and the family is on its way to face the day with a boost!
- Participate in the USDA’s School Breakfast Program which provides nutritious breakfasts at school. This meal will provide ¼ of your child’s daily needs. Many schools have begun serving right in the classroom.
There are a few options to explore for lunch when kids go to school. The family should decide together what plan they prefer when it comes to lunch time at school. Some kids love school lunches and the independence of buying what they want while others hate the idea of choosing and standing in line preferring to brown bag it. Here are some tips.
- If your child wants to purchase school lunch, be sure to get a copy of the week’s menu and discuss it with your child. Help them make healthy selections and get a well-balanced meal each day. Hopefully they won’t refuse some of the more nutritious items without your knowledge. If you find there is a day that your child can’t find what they enjoy, that is the day to bring a bag lunch. If your child loves the salad bar, take the time to discuss what toppings are best and how much dressing is appropriate.
- If your child prefers to have a lunch from home, let them help choose what goes inside. They will likely eat more of the foods if they had input on the items. Discuss which types of foods are the most balanced and even let them help shop for individual items. They can also help pack the lunchbox the night before. Items for a lunchbox include sandwiches on wheat bread, wraps, cheese sticks, fresh fruit, raisins, real fruit snack fruit such as peaches/applesauce/dried bananas, veggie snacks, and homemade desserts such as oatmeal cookies. Always include low fat milk from the cafeteria to round out the meal (or alternate if lactose intolerant). Avoid snack chips and candy.
- If they want to bring their lunch, be sure it is in a food safe container, has a means to stay cold, or avoid foods that are perishable. Include napkins, utensils and insure that the packages are easy to open. The brown bag should also give them a feeling of importance, style and pride in being an individual. Let them pick the lunch container in some way whether color, design or size as much as possible. They will be more willing to fill it up and finish what’s inside if it helps them express themselves.
After School Goodies
It seems like every child is starving after school whether they come right home, to an after school program or daycare or go to a sports practice. Did you know that kids get about a quarter of their daily nutritional needs in the form of snacks? This is not the time to hand out the goodies that are lacking in nutrition and high in calories and fat just because they are easy. We can continue to fuel their growing, active bodies with some nutrient dense after school snacks that they will enjoy! Get creative with the way you serve snacks such as fun shapes, cupcake papers or fun plates that will enhance their enjoyment.
- Fruit or vegetable slices
- 100 percent fruit juice
- Whole-grain crackers or mini whole-wheat bagels with low-fat cheese or peanut butter/almond butter
- Strawberries, grapes, dried fruits
- Popcorn mixed with dried cranberries and nuts
- Homemade granola bars or cookies using oats, dried apricots or craisins
- Hummus and carrots, peppers and cucumbers to dip
- English muffin or tortilla pizzas using low fat cheese, cherry tomatoes and shredded veggies
- Smoothies or smoothie popsicles
- Freeze grapes, strawberries and bananas for a refreshing treat
- Occasional treat such as chocolate chips in the cookies or trail mix
Family Meal Memories
Here are some good eating tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for the family to make meal times more nutritious.
- Serve regular meals and snacks, keep to a routine as much as possible
- Include a variety at all meals and nutrient rich snacks
- Talk together at meals, families that eat together have children with better nutrition
- Wash hands as part of every meal to promote healthy habits and food safety
- Teach children about food choices so that when they are away from home they will continue to pick the most nutritious foods
- Involve your children in their nutrition by letting them make menu choices, serve themselves, help shop for groceries, prepare food and even grow their own garden goodies
Your kids deserve the best start and lifelong health habits you can give them!
Good luck nourishing your kids and enjoy the following recipes!
Roll sliced turkey or deli ham, low fat cheese slice and tomato into a wheat tortilla (or us a pita pocket). Make ahead and refrigerate for a take along meal. Let your kids roll their own the night before picking their favorite ingredients to prevent “I don’t want that” as you are loading them up in the morning.
Homemade No Bake Cereal Bar
6 cups Cheerios or Chex cereal
1 cup peanut butter
Dried Fruit of your choice
- Warm peanut butter in the microwave until smooth and pourable, depending on your microwave wattage about 25-30 seconds.
- Pour the warm peanut butter over the cereal in a large mixing bowl and mix until all cereal is coated.
- Into a lightly buttered or sprayed 13 x 9 inch baking dish, spoon the mixture and firmly press, compacting into the pan.
- Sprinkle with raisins, dried bananas chips, or other dried fruit of your choice.
- Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Cut into 36 squares (9 x 4 rows).
- Keep in tightly sealed container or individual snack bags.