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Did You Remember This Important Item for School-Year Success?

Lorraine Burke Nutrition

You’ve got the new clothes and shoes, the backpacks and supplies. You’re finally ready to send your kids back to school! But have you taken time to think about how you’re fueling them for the year ahead?

It all starts with a nutritional breakfast. Over the years, various studies have shown that kids who eat breakfast do better in school, yet it is estimated that 12 to 34 percent of school-aged children and adolescents don’t eat breakfast.

We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that’s true in a lot of respects. After fasting overnight, the body needs nutrients. Carbohydrates provide energy, and protein and fat help our bodies feel full. These nutrients and others help kids concentrate better, which can lead to better classroom performance and higher grades. In addition, kids who eat breakfast tend to maintain a healthier weight than those who don’t.

One of the most important reasons to make sure your kids eat breakfast is the impact that meal has on bone health. When you include milk in your kids’ breakfasts, they’re getting a great dose of protein, carbohydrates and, especially, calcium—a key nutrient for bone density and height capacity.

Girls build 60 to 80 percent of their bone density by the time they’re 18 years old. By age 30, bone density begins to decline in women—so when you make sure your daughter gets plenty of milk in her diet, you’re making an impact on her health that will last a lifetime. Adolescents need about 1300 mg (milligrams) of calcium per day; each eight-ounce glass of milk provides about 280 mg.

Even if you’re a big advocate of breakfast, it may not always be possible to have a sit-down meal with your kids on school mornings. Here are some ideas for a nutritional breakfast, no matter how busy your mornings are:

  • Mad dash out the door. Send your kids off with a bagel and cream cheese, a peanut butter sandwich or a ham and cheese sandwich. Also consider a piece of “portable” fruit, like a banana or an apple. Other options: low-fat mozzarella sticks, cereal bars and protein bars.
  • Eating in, but in a hurry. Toast a frozen waffle and sprinkle on some nuts or fruit to increase the nutritional value. A little drizzle of syrup is also OK. Also, try some yogurt with an easy-to-prepare fruit (such as blueberries) mixed in. A piece of whole-grain toast and a glass of milk also work well.
  • Time to relax. On those rare days when you can enjoy breakfast as a family, make some French toast or scrambled eggs. Canadian bacon (which is leaner than ham) is a nice protein substitute for eggs.

However you end up doing breakfast—and all your meals—make sure to include a wide variety of foods to provide the maximum nutritional value.

So how can you ensure your kids are making good food choices when they’re not with you—at lunchtime, for instance, or at a friend’s house? One of the most important ways is, from the time your kids are babies, to model good nutritional behavior. That means avoiding sodas and choosing water instead. It means drinking milk and eating yogurt, as well as a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. And it means taking time to exercise.

It also helps to avoid making any particular food taboo, which can cause your child to feel deprived. If you allow your child to have a cupcake or some potato chips now and then—understanding that these are “sometimes” foods—he or she will not be as likely to become obsessed with the less-healthy lunches classmates bring to school.

If all of this seems overwhelming amidst an already chaotic school-year schedule, here’s the most important message of all: You don’t have to be perfect. Have frozen fruit on hand for those times when you can’t make it to the grocery store for fresh fruit. Buy pre-packaged, healthy food when your life is particularly hectic. Make changes here and there; every positive change will have an impact on your child’s health!

Learn more about how to support your child’s nutritional health at kidseatright.org.

Lorraine Burke, MS, RD, is an outpatient dietitian with Simi Valley Hospital’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program.