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Back-to-school nutrition

August 21, 2012|Lynn Little

As a new school year begins, it is important to remember the role nutrition plays in assuring kids a successful school year. Proper nutrition is crucial for social, emotional and psychological development.

Nutrition and learning go hand in hand. Kids who are nutritionally fit are more likely to have the energy, stamina and self-esteem that enhance their ability to learn. Parents can help ensure that their child is well nourished and ready-to-learn by considering the following:

Start with a healthful breakfast. For children of all ages, a morning meal is especially important to prepare them to meet the challenges of learning. Many studies have shown that those who eat a morning meal tend to perform better in school, score higher on tests, have higher school attendance, are less likely to be tardy, better concentration and muscle coordination. Kids who eat breakfast have fewer hunger-induced stomachaches and are less likely to be overweight.

If your child doesn't like traditional breakfast foods, don't worry, breakfast foods can be any food they like, even a slice of pizza. Keep quick-to-fix foods on hand or get breakfast foods ready the night before, such as mixing a pitcher of juice. If kids say they are not hungry, start them out with something light like juice or toast and send them off with a nutritious mid-morning snack such as yogurt, cheese or a bagel.

Some children believe skipping breakfast might help them lose weight — but just the opposite is true. Skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day. This can result in consuming more calories than if they had eaten an appropriate breakfast.

Parents can play a role in helping a child choose healthful lunches in several ways. Keep the school lunch menu in your kitchen, go over it with your child and talk with your child about making choices in the cafeteria line. The meals served at school contribute significantly to kids' overall nutrient and energy needs. School meals are regulated through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Through USDA guidance, schools are serving high-quality, nutritious lunches designed to supply about one-third of a child's daily nutrition needs.

If your child prefers to carry lunch to school encourage them to help plan and prepare their packed lunches. Lunch should contain food from all five main food groups: breads, fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy products. Look for ideas that are easy to prepare as well as nutritious. Many children do not like sandwiches for lunch, so including some variety in the menu can prevent children from getting bored with their lunch and will prevent them from straying to the vending machine or snack bar. You can find many healthful back-to-school lunch ideas at www.mealsmatter.org. Be sure to include a cold source in the packed lunches.

Finally, for after-school snacks choose foods that also supply needed nutrients. Stock up with ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, animal crackers, popcorn and cereal. Your child will appreciate the availability of quick healthful snacks.

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