Proper nutrition helps to prepare children for school

September 18, 2002|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Poor nutrition can have long-lasting effects on a child's development, school performance and relationships. Further, unhealthy eating habits during childhood can increase a child's risk for becoming overweight and developing chronic diseases such as diabetes later in life.

An important way parents can ensure that their child is adequately prepared for school each day is by seeing that their child eats nutritiously. Establishing healthy eating habits as a child can pave the way for a lifetime of better health.

-- Begin with breakfast

As a first step, make sure your child always begins each day with breakfast. Research studies have shown that students who eat breakfast do better work compared to those who skip it. Children who skip breakfast also tend to tire more quickly, be more irritable and react less quickly than those who eat breakfast.

Depending on how much time you have in the morning, breakfast can be simple or elaborate, cooked or uncooked and eaten sitting down or on-the-run. For children who don't enjoy traditional breakfast foods like milk and cereal or toast, use your imagination. Consider offering pieces of cheese, a peanut butter sandwich, oatmeal cookies, fruit, yogurt, or even last night's leftover pizza. The key is to choose foods that provide energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.


-- What's for lunch?

For most students, their midday meal is eaten at school during the week. Whether they take a brown-bag lunch or eat from the cafeteria line, kids today have many options for lunch. Parents have the task of either helping their child pack a nutritious sack lunch or teaching their child how to choose healthful meals from the school cafeteria.

If your child chooses to take a brown-bag lunch to school, pack meals that are easy to prepare and fun to eat as well as healthful, safe and nutritious. For example, sandwiches, raw vegetables (carrots, celery, cucumbers), whole fruit, string cheese and pudding are all easy to eat, nutritious foods. Also, don't forget the milk money. Kids need the calcium milk provides for their growing bones.

If your child purchases lunch at school, go over the menu together beforehand and talk about a balanced diet and how to make nutritious choices in the cafeteria line.

School lunch menus are typically published in school newsletters and in our local newspapers.

-- Beating the after-school snack attack

Many children need an after-school energy boost before they crack open a book, participate in after-school activities or go outside to play. Low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, cheese, bagels, air-popped popcorn and pretzels are all great choices.

Try to plan ahead by washing and preparing fruits and vegetables so they are ready to eat when your child gets home.

As you can see, with just a little time and effort, you can help your child with proper nutrition during the school year and send them on their way to a healthier future.

Lynn F. Little is the family and consumer sciences educator for the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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