Life Times Newsletter

September/October 2002
Vol. 4, No. 5

Remember to pack nutrition
in your child's school bag

As families prepare for children going back to school, their plans may focus on ensuring their children have the right equipment–pens, notebooks, clothing–to make it through the day. Yet far fewer families think of proper nutrition as a vital part of those back-to-school plans.

Nutrition and learning go hand-in-hand. Proper nutrition and a balanced diet are not only key for growth and development, but they also fuel brain cells for optimal learning. If you truly want your children to be at their best, be sure they receive the proper nutrition essential for back-to-school success. Nutritionally fit kids are more likely to have energy, stamina and self-esteem that enhance their ability to learn.

What's for breakfast?

Jump-start your children’s day with a well-balanced breakfast consisting of a grain (toast, cereal, bagel, etc.), fruit or a glass of fruit juice, and a cup of milk. After eight to 12 hours without a meal or snack, a child’s body needs fuel. Children who skip breakfast often feel tired, irritable or restless in the morning, but those who eat breakfast have a better attitude towards school and more energy by late morning.

Breakfast eaters tend to have more strength and endurance, as well as better concentration and problem solving skills. They have higher school attendance, less tardiness and fewer hunger-induced stomachaches in the morning. Kids who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight.

Short on time? Keep quick-to-fix foods on hand, or get breakfast foods ready the night before. If kids use the excuse of not being hungry, start them out with a little bite, perhaps juice or toast. Then send them off with a nutritious mid-morning snack.

How about lunch?

Lunch is an even bigger challenge for parents of school-age children. Because your children often have access to snack bars and vending machines, you must include excitement and variety in prepacked lunches that children will eat unsupervised.

Lunch should contain foods from all five essential food groups: breads, fruits, vegetables, meat products and dairy products. Limit the amount of potato chips, cookies, soft drinks and other non-nutritious foods. Include some variety in the menu to prevent children from getting bored with their lunch and straying to other unhealthy choices. For example, sandwiches, raw veggies, crackers, string cheese, whole fruit and pudding are fun foods that still supply good nutrition.

If your child is served lunch at school:

• Get familiar with the menu. Go over the menu with your child. Talk about making healthy choices in the cafeteria line, and practice at home.

• Get involved. Join the parent advisory committee for the school food service program. If none exists, take charge and work with the school staff to set up one.

• Support the nutrition education efforts at school. Find out what your child is learning and try to apply those lessons at home.

What about snacks?

Most children need a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon to keep them from losing energy and becoming hungry and irritable. Snacks can supply needed nutrients that can be missed in meal choices. Stock your refrigerator and cabinets with ready-to-go snacks: yogurt, cottage cheese, lean deli meats, 100 percent fruit juice, milk, washed ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, animal crackers, popcorn and cereal.

A well-nourished child is ready to learn. Food nourishes at every age and stage in a child’s life. Proper nutrition is crucial for social, emotional and psychological development.

Damaris Karanja, MA
Nutrition Specialist

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller