It’s crucial for kids to start the school year off armed with all the supplies needed for their various classes and with meals that will inspire kids to feel mentally and physically energized. A recent study suggests that eating a big breakfast that is filled with crucial nutrients provides energy, improves mood, keeps blood sugar stabilized and even wards off disease. So it’s imperative to feed your kids a morning meal that takes them through the first hours of school, keeping them charged until it’s time for lunch. That first meal of the day can also help to determine how much they will eat during the rest of the day, an important consideration amidst raging rates of childhood obesity. That morning meal should include a whole grain carbohydrate, a healthy protein, some healthy fat and a serving of calcium. Consider these ideas:
- Oatmeal or whole grain/high fiber cereal mixed with with berries, nuts, and “light” fortified milk (1 % cow’s milk, soymilk, or almond milk).
- Greek yogurt with cut up bananas, apples and a spoonful of peanut butter.
- Half a whole grain English muffin with tomato sauce, light cheese and soybeans
- A whole grain waffle with nut butter, fruit and Neufchatel cheese (lower in fat, higher in moisture than cream cheese)
- A small whole grain tortilla with hummus, soybeans and roasted vegetables plus a cup of “light” milk.
Except for the oatmeal suggestion, some of these breakfast ideas can also swap out for lunch. Think of lunch as a refueling opportunity, providing the necessary energy for the second half of their day. It should be tasty and offer healthy choices from multiple food groups. Either water or some type of fortified milk should be the beverage of choice. When you design your child’s lunch, use a checklist of food groups (number of servings depends on child’s age) that include:
- One to two fruits
- One to three vegetables – remember that healthy dips like yogurt-based, hummus, salsa and bean dips can help nudge a kid to like eating their vegetables
- A lean serving of protein (depending on the age and activity level of the child, 3 -5 ounces) including hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken, tuna, bean soup or chili in a wide, small thermos, or edamame
- A serving of healthy fat – nut butters and nuts (find out if peanuts are allowed, otherwise roasted soy nuts, almonds, walnuts, shelled pistachios are also good choices),avocado or guacamole.
- One to two servings of whole grain, high fiber carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, baked whole grain crackers, whole grain pita, mini high fiber muffin, or other grain)
- A serving of dairy (unless you plan on providing as part of the after-school snack) – this can be the protein serving as well including Greek yogurt, ricotta cheese, small carton of light milk.
- A frozen water carton can keep everything cool while it defrosts for lunch
Your child may decide to save some of their lunch for an afternoon snack or to eat on the school bus ride home, so consider including less perishable choices like an apple, plum, banana, or a bag of grapes, small 100 calorie packs of roasted soybeans or unprocessed nuts, small boxes of whole grain cereal, small bags of homemade trail mix (cereal, dried fruit, nuts), mini bags of carrots, air popped popcorn, a small container of low fat pudding or unsweetened apple sauce.
For more great back-to-school lunch and snack ideas, check out The Four Habits of Healthy Families (BenBella Books 2010).
Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch? Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103. Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.
Published On: August 08, 2013