For children under the age of five, nutritional guidelines include a good amount of dietary fat so that the child can develop normally and reach daily calorie requirements.
As kids approach school-age however, they should gradually move towards a diet that is lower in fat and higher in fiber. After age five a child’s diet should be low in fat, sugar, and salt, and high in fiber, including five servings of fruits and vegetables every day – just like adults.
Whatever their age though, children can get a balanced diet and lower their risk of becoming overweight or obese by eating a variety of foods every day.
It is important to mention that if a child has allergies to certain key foods like cow’s milk that it is very important to find ‘alternatives’ to those allergen foods so that the child’s bone mass development (and nutrition are not compromised.
This morning meal is critical for everyone but especially kids since they need the extra energy to focus and concentrate in the classroom.
Breakfast gives the body energy after a night of fasting. In terms of academic performance and learning, studies clearly show that kids who regularly skip breakfast are more sluggish, less attentive and have less energy for morning activities. Studies also tell us that skipping breakfast does hinder learning and academic performance.
Some breakfasts might be better than others at boosting memory and learning. These are foods that are digested slowly and lead to a slow release of glucose. These are referred to as low glycemic foods. Some good old standbys include oatmeal – the large flake or steel-cut varieties – 1% low-fat milk, whole-grain breads, whole citrus fruit and berries.
Eggs are also a great breakfast choice for kids. Eggs supply protein which can keep kids feeling satiated in the morning. Eggs also provide choline, a nutrient in the B vitamin family, which is very important for brain function, learning, and memory. Our bodies make a little choline every day but you do need some from the diet. Egg yolks and nuts are a great source. If you child doesn’t like eating eggs, try French toast.
For breakfasts on the run, try any of the following: one tablespoon of nut butter spread on a whole-wheat tortilla and then wrap around a small banana; one measured cup of homemade trail mix made of shredded wheat, Cheerios, raisins, dried cranberries, and nuts in a zip-lock bag, plus a yogurt for calcium; a six-ounce, low-fat yogurt cup, a piece of fruit, and a low-fat granola bar, like Nature’s Path granola bar or crispy rice bar.
What’s for lunch?
If your child is eating out of the canteen on a regular basis, it’s important for parents to find out how healthy and balanced these menus are. As tedious as it can be for parents to think of planning and packing a lunch for their child, with a little organization, it can truly make a difference in not only their child’s nutrition but it also sends the message that healthy eating is important everyday.
However, keep it simple. Tuna, turkey, or cheese sandwich squares or wrap sandwiches.
If sandwiches aren’t your child’s thing then think about different ways of getting protein into their lunch: Add a cheese stick, a small cup of tuna salad with pickles, or sliced meat and veggies in a pita pocket. Provide a small container of peanut butter – if the school allows it – for dipping apple slices into or smearing on top of mini rice cakes.
Ask your child for input, but ask them specific questions like: ‘Do you want a salad in your lunch or baby carrots and dip?’ or ‘Do you want a granola bar or grapes for dessert?’. I say be specific because often parents will tell me that they do enlist input from their child – like asking them to choose which fruit they want in their lunch – but they might still end up bringing home an unfinished lunch box. So be specific with your questions when trying to find out what your child will eat.
To make things easier, prepare lunches on Sundays. Fill little plastic containers with vanilla yogurt and frozen blueberries or strawberries and put them in the freezer. Each morning, take one frozen container and put it in your child’s lunchbox. By lunchtime, it’s a delightfully cold, healthy treat. Frozen green beans, peas or corn work well this way, too, to keep a tuna or pasta salad cold and fresh by lunch time. On Sundays, you can also take organic popcorn that comes already popped, pretzels, and whole-wheat crackers, and put them in a couple of plastic containers to drop into the lunch box during the week.
Heat up leftovers in the morning, and put them in the thermos. Warm noodles with red sauce, rice and beans in a thermos, even chicken soup provide wholesome lunches when the common sandwich lunch just doesn’t fly.