While nutrition is important year-round, fueling kids for the school day is key to ensuring they stay focused on learning.
Brittany Braswell, a registered dietitian at Metroplex Hospital in Killeen, said the first place to start is with a sustaining breakfast.
“Try to avoid a breakfast really high in sugar. It does tend to wake kids up in the morning ... but if (they) haven’t had a little bit of fiber or protein in their breakfast, it will wear off really quickly,” she said.
She recommended oatmeal, or an oatmeal-based bar, as well as yogurt with fruit or granola. If time allows, a smoothie can be taken on the road.
“Fruit has great fiber to keep them full,” Braswell said.
For lunch, she recommended variety to keep kids excited about their healthy meals.
“It’s good for parents to think outside the box sometimes, because kids tend to get bored with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” she said. “I recommend some different combinations to make the lunch box or plate as colorful as possible.”
Braswell said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s My Plate campaign is helpful resource. At each meal, half the plate should be fruits and vegetables, and the other half split between grains and protein, with a dairy serving on the side, according to the nutrition guidelines.
When it comes to protein choices, My Plate suggests looking at meats with lower sodium contents, lean cuts and small portions.
For school lunches, Braswell suggested trying fish, chicken or lunch meats such as turkey or roast beef. To add variety to the sandwich, mix it up with a tortilla, or mix up salad. Instead of high-fat mayonnaise, she recommended Greek yogurt.
Couscous and quinoa are also good choices that provide protein and are gluten-free, and can be made ahead of time.
“Kids get nervous trying new things, so my recommendation for parents is to get kids in the kitchen every once in a while,” Braswell said.
She said turn family night into trying a new recipe. “If it’s something they made, generally they are more willing to eat it. It’s usually good family-time experience, and an exposure to new food.”
For those children who eat lunch in the cafeteria, Braswell said parents should send them armed with knowledge, but never with a good versus bad mindset.
“Going through the line, it’s one of those times where kids get a chance to start choosing foods and building their plate on their own,” she said.
This is when teaching kids about My Plate can be helpful.
“It’s always a good idea to talk to kids before hand,” Braswell said. “If you set an example when they’re young to get a little bit everything on the plate ... and make it as colorful as possible.”