The start of a new school year means a return to hectic schedules that can put a strain on time management and lead to poor eating habits for school children and their parents. It doesn't have to be that way, according to UNLV nutrition researcher - and mom - Molly Michelman. All it takes is a bit of organization, dedication and a few helpful tips.
While it's no secret that healthy eating combats childhood obesity - a chronic issue that affects more than one-third of kids in Nevada - proper nutrition also improves classroom performance, increases concentration and decreases behavior problems in school-aged children.
Breakfast Really Is Important
Breakfast effectively fuels the brain for a long day at school. Set a precedent by eating breakfast yourself (even if it means getting up earlier). To be sure it happens, set out everything the night before.
- Leave out kitchen supplies and whole grain cereals, whole bananas or apples. When you wake up, you'll just need to add the skim/low-fat or soymilk.
- On alternate days, leave whole wheat bread or English muffins next to the toaster. Cut up fresh fruit and keep in the refrigerator. Stash the fruit near the low-fat yogurt and grab it all when you wake up.
Don't Make Lunch a Surprise
If you pack your child's lunch, be sure they know what's going in the bag. Get their buy-in by allowing them to choose from healthy options you select together at the store.
- Lunch should include a main dish (sandwich, salad or even leftovers), a fruit, a vegetable, water and a small amount of something crunchy or sweet.
- Pack well-liked options for sides like grapes, strawberries, cut watermelon or raisins and dried cherries or cranberries. Cut up celery or carrots or put some crunchy lettuce on that sandwich.
- Try baked chips and fat-free pudding or fruit leathers as a healthy treat.
Keep After School Treats Healthy
After-school snacks should be healthful as well. Again, it's great to have some choices to satisfy a sweet or salty craving.
- Savory ideas: hummus with pita, cheese with whole grain crackers, baked tortilla chips and salsa, microwave popcorn (single-bags), pretzels dipped in mustard or pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
- Sweet ideas: mixed dried fruit, all-fruit smoothies, microwave baked apple with cinnamon, frozen fruit bars, dry cereal, graham crackers with almond or peanut butter.
Michelman's research focuses on the impact of nutrition education and physical activity on changes in behavior, knowledge and attitude in children. She recently led a collaborative partnership of local schools as part of the National Institutes of Health's "We Can!" (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity and Nutrition) program, a national educational program designed for parents and caregivers to help children 8-13 years old maintain a healthy weight.