Summer is over and school is in session. For parents, this means getting packed lunches ready every morning or relying on school cafeterias to provide their children with proper nutrition.
But in all of the morning chaos that a new school year brings, it’s easy to forget a rule of thumb when it comes to nutrition: Start your day with a healthy breakfast. Angie Placeres, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health South Florida, says that a hearty meal before heading off to school helps kids stay alert when they get to their first class.
“I know a lot of the time we’re rushed in the morning to get to class on time,” says Ms. Placeres. “But it’s also important to wake up maybe 10 minutes earlier to eat a good breakfast for both the kids and the parents. Then when the kids get to school, they’re ready and awake to really learn. It’s important to have a healthy, well- balanced breakfast in the morning that can last until lunchtime, which is usually served three to four hours into the school day.”
Some examples of a healthy breakfast, says Ms. Placeres, is whole grain cereal with low fat milk and a piece of fruit. “And kids love to eat eggs and they’re fast to make in the morning,” she adds. “Maybe make a scrambled egg with some whole wheat bread or some oatmeal.” Low-fat yogurt with granola is a another option, she says.
Packing a Health Lunch
Breakfast is important, but lunch is a fuller meal with great opportunity for nutritious options, says Lucette Talamas, a registered dietitian with the Community Heath unit of Baptist Health South Florida.
“Lunch is an important time for kids to refuel their minds for classroom success, as well as for after-school sports,” says Ms. Talamas. “It may be a daunting task to pack something that is healthy and also appealing to kids.”
Parents are in control of the food choices that make up a child’s lunch box, says Ms. Talamas. “Fuel a growing body with healthy food choices by following the government’s My Plate (www.choosemyplate.gov)  guidelines to build a healthy meal based on fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy,” she says.
Packing a Healthy Lunch Box
- Lunch box safety. Your child can choose a “cool” lunch box, but make sure it is insulated to keep food safe. Rule of thumb: Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Cold foods can be kept cold with ice packs or by freezing certain items, such as yogurt. Hot foods can be kept warm in insulated bottles like thermals.
- The 5 food groups. Plan to include as many food group choices based on My Plate guidelines. Here are a few lunch box friendly ideas:
Add veggies to a sandwich, including sliced bell peppers, cucumbers or dark leafy greens. Pack a bag of cut carrots or celery with a bean dip like hummus.
The list is endless. Alternate choices by offering what is in season and thinking beyond apples and bananas! Pack extra for an after-school snack.
Offer a variety of lean proteins, including chicken or turkey, hard-boiled eggs or tuna. Other options include plant-based protein sources like beans and lentils (mmm chili).
Aim for half of your grain choices to be whole grain, including whole grain bread, rice or pasta. Use caution with whole grain cereals and bars, which may be loaded with added sugar.
If your child is bringing a home-packed lunch, it may also be possible to buy a milk carton at school. Low-fat cheese or yogurt can also be included in their lunches.
- Beware of added sugars. From fruit jelly, fruity snacks, cereal bars and sugary drinks, the amount of added sugars can really build up in one lunch box. Before purchasing packaged items, review the Nutrition Facts label for grams of sugar and ingredients list to identify products that have less sugar, or even better – no added sugar.