By Silvia Delgado, RD
Want your kids to do well in school? Make sure they start their day with a healthy, well-balanced breakfast and follow it with an even healthier lunch.
While we all know that healthy eating is essential to our overall health, a healthy diet is also important for your child’s academic performance. Children who eat well, perform better in school, feel more energetic, concentrate better in the classroom, and most importantly, they stay healthy and in school!
A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that more than 40 percent of the packed lunches that children bring from home are often missing the vegetables, milk and other healthy items recommended by dietary guidelines.
In fall of 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the MyPlate food guide to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices. The guide promotes portion control and emphasizes the consumption of the five major food groups that make up a healthy diet: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.
When deciding what to pack, make sure you include a variety of ‘superfoods’ too! Not only are these foods full of nutrients, but they also improve a child’s brain growth and help boost brain function, which can result in better grades.
Berries: Have high levels of antioxidants, especially Vitamin C. They can be mixed into a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt, tossed into a salad or simply eaten as a snack.
Eggs: Are a great source of protein, which can help keep children feeling full longer. The yolks contain iron — good for brain function — and lecithin, a substance that contributes to memory and concentration. Serve them up either hard-boiled for a snack or in an omelet with your child’s favorite veggies for breakfast.
Whole grains: Whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, quinoa and oats are rich in B-vitamins and fiber. This provides children with a steady source of energy to perform their best throughout the day.
Beans: Black, Pinto, Kidney, Garbanzo and soybeans are a great source of protein, fiber and iron. Iron plays a vital role in the development of the brain; it also protects your child’s immune system, lowering their risk of illness. Mix beans into a burger patty, blend them into a dip or toss them into a salad.
Avocados: Are rich in vitamins and potassium. They also have heart healthy fats that provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Add a slice or two to sandwiches; prepare with tomatoes, onions and sprinkle with lemon to make a guacamole dip, or simply chop up an avocado and add it to salads.
Nuts: Walnuts, almond and pecans are a great source of healthy fat, essential for brain growth and development. They are also packed with antioxidants that may be helpful in cancer prevention. Sprinkle some nuts on oatmeal, salads or prepare a delicious almond butter sandwich for breakfast.
Non-fat Greek Yogurt: Excellent source of protein, vitamin D, calcium and probiotics. Children need Vitamin D for the absorption of calcium in order to build strong bones. Probiotics, the “healthy bacteria,” may help with digestion and immunity. Use nonfat Greek yogurt in smoothies or anywhere you would use sour cream, such as in tacos or dips. You can also pack it as a snack with berries, nuts and seeds.
Vegetables: Vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and are very low in calories, which can be helpful in the prevention of obesity and diabetes. Variety is key. Children love colorful foods, so make sure you serve a rainbow of foods. Roast and grill veggies and add them to sandwiches, salads or burritos. Make smoothies with veggies and fruit that everyone will love. Serve veggies with nonfat and low-fat dips or add vegetables to all-time kid favorite recipes like spaghetti.