With kids returning to school, we thought it would be a perfect time to ask Kara Gann, a Clinical Dietitian at Children’s Medical Center, for some back-to-school nutrition tips.
Make Breakfast a Priority
Eating breakfast is the best way to start the day, for children and adults alike. To encourage your kids to fuel up before school, sit down and eat with them. The act of eating breakfast together models that breakfast is important.
If a rushed morning routine keeps you from sitting down for breakfast, set aside 10 to 15 extra minutes to eat. Wake up just a little bit earlier if needed.
A balanced breakfast doesn’t have to be an elaborate hot meal. A bowl of whole-grain cereal (skip the sugary ones, aim for less than 10 grams of sugar per serving) + low-fat milk + a piece of fruit is a quick and nutritious breakfast.
Ask Your Kids How They Eat at School
While many schools have revamped their menus to offer a better variety of healthy options in recent years, the biggest issue I have noticed with kids eating school meals is that most aren’t eating enough.
Whether it’s the short amount of time they are given to eat or their food preferences, many children are tossing half, if not more, of their meals away.
Inadequate nutrition early in the day can cause kids to be more easily distracted in class and leads to them feeling overly hungry after school and the rest of the evening.
If you notice your children seem to be excessively hungry after school, ask them about how they’re eating at school. Packing a lunch for those who don’t care for the food the school offers is a great way to ensure they get enough to eat of the kinds of healthy foods they like.
Have a Nutritious Snack Ready for After-School
No matter how well a child eats at breakfast and lunch, he or she will still most likely be hungry after school. Some families eat dinner when the kids arrive home from school, but many families don’t eat until two or three hours after school is out.
I recommend finding the right sized snack to help them come to dinner hungry, but not starving. Hungry children are more likely to try new foods, but if they are overly hungry, they are more inclined to eat very quickly and possibly overeat.
If they come to the table full from a meal-sized afternoon snack, they will not want to eat their meal, or they might eat it anyway and feel stuffed.
A snack like an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a cup of yogurt + a granola bar should be enough to stave off starvation while not spoiling the appetite for dinner.
If your child rides the bus, or you have a long drive home from school, it might be a good idea to send the snack in their backpack or have it in the car. Having healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables available, instead of less nutritious foods like chips and cookies, keeps kids from eating too many empty calories.
Think of snack times as additional opportunities during the day for kids to eat more of the foods they might not be getting enough of in their three meals. Make the most of them by offering foods that have the nutrients growing bodies need.
Do your kids have a favorite healthy after-school snack? Leave us a comment and tell us their favorite.
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