Back to School Nutrition

Words by Bentz P. Tozer, Jr., B.S., CPT

Summer is winding down and back to school season is upon us. There’s a lot to do to prepare for the upcoming school year — buy new clothes, stock up on supplies, get a new backpack and start getting used to hearing that alarm clock again. One of the most important things to do to prepare for a successful school year is to make sure everyone is getting their proper nutrition.

Healthy eating is a fairly simple concept and most people know the difference between healthy food and non-healthy foods. Everyone knows that an apple is healthier than a doughnut, but choosing what foods to eat is only one part of good nutrition.

One very important part of good nutrition (and a current hot topic in today’s news) is portion size. According to the USDA, the average meal should be approximately 600 calories for children and around 700 for an adult. A serving of spaghetti is one half cup, many restaurants serve three times that amount, if not more. Take some time to learn the correct portion size for the foods you eat.

Eating the correct amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats will help your body function well, and also allows you to indulge in the occasional treat. If your kids are eating the proper portions of healthy foods and not overeating, it’s ok to have the occasional cookie or small candy bar instead of banning these foods completely.

Breakfast is a key part of good nutrition. According to Dr. Mary Gavin, a pediatrician at the Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children, kids who eat breakfast tend to eat healthier overall and are more likely to participate in physical activities. They need to refuel after going without food for 8-12 hours during the night. Energy and mood can drop by mid-morning if they have not eaten a morning meal before school. What kids eat for breakfast is very important. A breakfast composed of protein, whole grains and fiber boosts attention span, concentration and memory – all of which are things children need each day in school.

A healthy lunch allows your kids to refuel from the morning and prepare them for the afternoon. Most schools publish their lunch menus on the school website monthly, so you and your child can review it and plan for the days when they may want to take a packed lunch to school. Getting your child involved in meal planning will create the habit of making healthy choices and also allow them to have some control over what they are eating. If you pack a lunch with foods your child doesn’t like, he or she will probably not eat it. Doing it together will allow you to work together to pack a lunch they will enjoy and also creates an opportunity for you to encourage healthy food choices. Children who help choose and prepare the foods in their lunch are more likely to eat it. A healthy lunch should include food from all five food groups: protein, fruit, vegetables, dairy and grains.

Try to incorporate some variety so they don’t get bored. Instead of a sandwich on break, use a flavored wrap or pack a small scoop of chicken or tuna salad on lettuce. Hard boiled eggs or veggies with hummus are also a good sandwich alternative. Limit liquid calories whenever you can. Try to avoid sodas, energy drinks or sugary fruit juices as much as possible. Water or low fat milk are the best choices. Frozen bottles of water will also serve the dual purpose of keeping your child’s food cold until lunch time.

After school snacks are a big part of the school day, particularly if kids participate in after school activities. Most kids grab a snack immediately upon arriving home, so it’s important to have healthy and quick food options available. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with important and essential nutrients. They are also low in calories, which will help prevent “spoiling your dinner.” To help your child increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet, keep plenty of pre-washed produce available for them to eat. Apples, bananas peaches, and pears are easy to grab-and-go. Portion out celery and carrot sticks or berries in individual bags for kids to snack on as well. Having these snack options available as opposed to chips or cookies will help the whole family make better snack choices as well.

Back to school is an exciting and busy time. Focusing on good nutrition will set your child up for a healthy and successful school year.

Be Well Tips:

  • Choose healthful foods

  • Practice portion control

  • Eat breakfast

  • Include children in meal-planning and preparation

  • Provide healthful snack options

  • Consult a physician before beginning or changing your diet