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08/12/2010

Food for Thought: The Right Ingredients for Optimal Learning

As the days of summer tick by, it is time to dust off the backpack, shop for school supplies, and start preparing for homework.  But what’s inside a child’s lunchbox may not only hold secrets to better physical health but can help a child mentally prepare for learning.

Parents can make the school day easier for their children by providing nutritious and yummy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks that promote optimal learning.  Everyone is in a rush in the morning, but it only takes a few minutes on Sunday to plan healthy meals to fuel your child’s week.

Some tips when planning breakfast, lunch, and snacks for a student:

  • Incorporate at least three types of foods into each meal, making sure to include some type of protein and carbohydrates.  Complex carbohydrates, like whole wheat bagels and pasta or honey wheat pretzels, will give your child energy while the protein will satisfy the appetite for a longer period of time.
  • Have the child shop with the parent to choose one fruit or vegetable each week.  Encourage them to try new and interesting fruits and vegetables like kiwi, papaya, and edamame.
  • Be bold.  Remember, breakfast doesn’t have to be what’s considered “typical.”  Thin crust pizza, peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat, a grilled chicken sandwich, or last night’s leftovers can be nutritious, delicious and fun breaks from the norm!
  • Most meals may very well be “grab and go,” so plan accordingly.  Prepare homemade pancakes on Sunday evening and freeze for quick access later in the week.
  • Watch portion size.  Three to four ounces of meat is plenty and is about the size of your palm. Adjust for your child’s age and activity level.
  • Be a little sneaky.  Add more veggies to everyday favorites.  Try zucchini bread, healthy low-fat dips with veggies or adding shredded carrots into tomato sauce and soups.
  • Try low-fat or skim milk and bottled water for beverages.  If juice is a necessity, choose 100 percent juice or make your own “child’s cocktail” – half water, half juice.
  • It is all about balance. Everything in moderation is key. 

Examples of Healthy Breakfasts

  • Egg whites on whole-grain wrap with chopped tomatoes and low-fat or skim milk
  • Kashi® cereal with sliced strawberries and low-fat or skim milk
  • Slice of thin crust pizza, banana, and low-fat or skim milk
  • Smoothie made with bananas, strawberries, and low-fat yogurt with a small whole wheat bagel
  • Low-fat yogurt topped with a few pieces Cracklin Oat Bran® cereal topping and blueberries, low-fat or skim milk

Examples of Healthy Lunches

  • Turkey on whole wheat bagel thin, topped with romaine lettuce, tomato, red onion, and mustard
  • Hummus with chopped red peppers, carrot and celery sticks
  • Tuna fish made with tuna in water, low-fat mayo, and celery in a whole grain pita with romaine lettuce
  • Low-fat roast beef with low-fat cheese and mustard on honey-whole wheat English muffin
  • Peanut butter crackers, a peach, and baby carrots with low-fat Ranch dressing
  • Limit beverages to bottled water and low-fat or skim milk (or low-fat chocolate milk)

Examples of Healthy Snacks

  • Baked chips
  • Snack-sized sugar free applesauce
  • Homemade trail mix - control the portions and add dried pineapple and raspberries
  • Oranges and apples
  • Graham crackers
  • Honey wheat pretzel sticks

Parents can also use tools such as the customized nutritional guide at www.mypyramid.gov, which will help parents determine the proper intake amount based upon a child’s age, gender, and activity level.

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