Healthy meals help with school

A healthy breakfast and lunch can improve student performance and behavior.

For kids and parents alike, the start of school is usually an exciting time. But following that excitement also comes a bit of chaos. Juggling schedules, work, activities and probably a slightly different eating pattern from the summertime can be overwhelming at the start of the school season. Eating healthy, nutritious foods has been shown to improve school performance and behavior. Breakfast and lunch should not be a last minute thought in the preparation for school. A little bit of planning ahead can get your family ready for a successful school year. Below are some ideas to help parents and kids create a healthy school year.

  1. Don’t skip breakfast! It is the first meal of the day and should be a jump start of energy to begin the day. Try to think of this meal in terms of nutrients instead of “breakfast” foods which are a little different. Plan for foods that provide protein, carbohydrates and fruits and/or vegetables focusing on less processed foods. Adding a glass of low-fat milk provides much needed calcium and other nutrients. Some ideas include:
    1. Smoothies made with fresh or frozen fruit
    2. Quesadilla (whole-wheat tortilla with egg, cheese and vegetables)
    3. Yogurt and low-fat granola with fruit
    4. Whole-wheat waffle with peanut butter and banana
    5. Dry cereal, dried fruit and nuts (be cautious for choking hazard)
    6. Whole-wheat English muffin with hummus and vegetables
    7. Leftovers
  2. Check out the school food program as an option for getting nutritious foods into your child. The school food program offers breakfast and lunch every school day. Requirements are in place for school meals to offer healthy choices and is either free with qualification or has a marginal cost. There is a form that parents can complete to qualify for reduced or free meals. Do not hesitate to complete this form as you may not know if you qualify and this can help to provide healthy meals for your child.
  3. If you choose to pack your child’s lunches, remember to offer a variety of foods that are limited in processing. Switch white bread to whole-grain bread if sandwiches are included in their lunches. There are many different types of bread available including whole-wheat tortillas, English muffins, bagels and pita pockets. If you have a thermos, you can send beans and rice, pasta, soup and other hot foods. Pack a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and use hummus or yogurt as dipping sauce. Water or low-fat milk are great choices for drinks. Juice should be limited as it is high in sugar and can take the place of foods with more nutrients. Food safety is very important. Keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Use ice packs for the foods that need to be cold and put those foods next to them. A refillable water bottle with frozen water works well and doubles as drinking water as the ice melts. Preheat thermoses with boiling water for 2 minutes before dumping and adding the hot food just before school. Investing in a good quality thermos will keep foods safe.

When planning breakfast and lunch, talk to your kids about what they would like to eat. You may have to guide them by giving them healthy choices to choose from instead of an open book. Prepare a list and create a menu from those ideas for each week. From the menu, you can create a weekly shopping list to match your lunch and breakfast choices.

Packing lunches the night before saves time for the unexpected during the morning rush and allows for more creativity. Cutting up vegetables, making sandwiches and making portion size bags of pretzels, trail mix and such ahead of time gives you flexibility and choice.

Start the school year out with a healthy plan to get your kids off to a great start. For more information on healthy eating, visit Michigan State University Extension.

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