Food plays an important role in your child’s school success. From breakfast to supper and everything in between, what your children are eating provides the energy they need to focus and excel throughout the day. Here are some tips and ideas to help get you started.
Often called the most important meal of the day, breakfast is important for recharging and energizing for the upcoming day, along with boosting brain function and reducing the risk of such chronic diseases as heart disease and diabetes. A recent study has found that children who eat breakfast have a higher intake of the important nutrients folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those children who miss this meal.1
Breakfast doesn’t need to be cereal and milk; it can be supper leftovers, toast and favorite toppings, egg and vegetable muffins or fruit and cheese. Deciding the night before, can make the morning less rushed and provide a smoother morning start.
Packing a school lunch
Storage containers (rather than plastic bags) make food more appealing and enjoyable to eat, as the food looks appetizing and doesn’t get mushy. Make sure kids can open the containers, though; too often the reason food comes home is because it wasn’t accessible! When packing lunches, try to provide a mixture of foods you know your children like, and some foods they’re learning to like or have never tried, as increasing access and availability of foods can increase intake, as does repeated exposure.2 You may be surprised by what your children eat in an unpressured environment!
Food safety is important to remember when packing a lunch, so using an ice pack or thermos is a great idea. Offering food at the right temperature also makes the food more appetizing. To properly use a thermos for hot foods, fill thermos with boiling water, put on lid and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Pour out the water, and fill with hot food (that contains some liquid). A thermos can also be used to store cold food, and may be better than an ice pack to keep food cool. Chill thermos in fridge, freezer, or with cold water, and then place cold food inside empty thermos, closing lid tightly.
Some schools have a policy that students must wash and eat bread for lunch; others have allergy policies, so find out food details ahead of time. For those requiring bread: If your child finds that sandwiches get soggy, provide all the necessary ingredients and have your child put his sandwich together just before eating. Some ideas are: sliced pita triangles and hummus; sliced eggs, veggies and a wrap; sliced cheese or turkey and bread. Involve your child in packing his own lunch and ask for feedback on what he did and didn’t like about the meals to ensure he eats what you’re providing.
A snack after school, while not always necessary (depending when dinner is served in relation to coming home), is another opportunity to provide key nutrients for growth and maturation. It needn’t be a big or fancy snack, but like all snacks, try to include 2–3 different food groups. Some suggestions are: a cup of milk and fruit; sliced veggies and peanut butter or hummus; half a tuna sandwich; the first course of supper. The key is to take the edge off your children’s hunger, and allow them to focus on things other than eating (such as play-time or homework) while still leaving enough space to later eat supper.
Eating meals together as a family is something to consider incorporating into your schedule, as the benefits outweigh the difficulties of shifting schedules. While Shabbos meals account for twice a week already, try to have an adult eat with children in a family setting as often as possible. Children who eat as a family have the benefits of a higher grade-point average and self-esteem, as well as decreased risk of developing obesity and eating disorders. Family meals boost vocabulary skills and lower the risk of depression and substance abuse. For these reasons, try to set one common time to eat as a family instead of having each child eat dinner as he or she comes home from school (this is where that after-school snack comes in!).
There are so many challenges our children face during the school day and beyond. While food is not always the answer, a balanced and nutritious diet can keep them focused and energized to successfully take on those challenges.
Bracha Kopstick is a Registered Dietitian in Toronto and owner of BeeKay Nutrition. She takes the “diet” out of dietitian, and wants you to take it out of your life! As a nutrition expert, Bracha promotes eating home-prepared foods more often and taking time to enjoy what you eat without any associated guilt. She is available for in-person and on-line counseling. Contact her at Bracha@beekaynutrition.com
- Coulthard, J.D., Palla, L. & Gerda, K.P. (2017). Breakfast consumption and nutrient intake in 4–18-year-olds: UK national diet and nutrition survey rolling programme (2008–2012). British Journal of Nutrition
2. DeCosta, P., Moller, P., Frost, M.B. & Olsen, A. (2017). Changing children’s eating behaviour — A review of experimental research. Appetite 113 327–357