As parents get ready to send their kids back to school after a long summer holiday, making sure kids are being properly nourished with the right kinds of foods can make all the difference in
their academic performance and in their overall health and well-being. HEALTH presents an in-depth guide to nutrition for your children…
A growing issue in the UAE is overweight children and childhood obesity, reveals Celebrity and Model Trainer Heather Marr. She explains, “Last year, the Dubai Health Authority issued a report stating that 33 percent of children aged from kindergarten to grade 12 across 176 private schools were either overweight or obese. This poses a number of health risks, both short and long term.”
Why it Matters
The grim fact is that children who are overweight or obese are more likely to become overweight or obese adults. According to Marr, they are at greater risk of major health issues including heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and diabetes. With children heading back to school, it is vital that they have healthy, nutrient dense food options with them to enjoy during their school day.
Healthy lunches start at the grocery store. Children eat what you have purchased and what is available to them in your home, so Marr suggests keeping your fridge and pantry stocked with a variety of healthy choices. “Have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand, buy wholegrain products, lean proteins, and lots of natural nut butters,” she advises, and in fact, healthy options like these should be their diet staples. Remember that things such as fried food, chocolate, candy and chips should be saved to be enjoyed as treats, not as the bulk of their snacks and meals.
Encourage children to help prepare and pack their lunches, advises Marr. “They will be much more interested in eating their meals this way,” she tells. “They can help with chores as simple as rinsing fruit to making sandwiches and even chopping vegetables if they are old enough.” The bottom line is to get them involved in the kitchen and instil these healthy habits from an early age
Picky eaters can pose a further challenge for parents trying to pack healthy lunches. The suggestions above, points out Marr, can be very effective for getting picky eaters to eat their meals, such as helping with food preparation and making meals fun.
She adds another strategy for picky eaters is to introduce new foods slowly at dinner time. “Halt snacking one to two hours prior to dinner so your child sits down to their meal hungry,” she says, and start by introducing these foods in small doses. For instance, encourage children to try just one bite. They are then free to enjoy their regular favorite foods at the meal. Often children need to be exposed to a new food several times in this manner before they develop a taste for it and like it. Be positive, encouraging, and patient, stresses Marr, and soon your child will have an increasing number of healthy meal and snack options they will enjoy during their school day.
Foods that Boost Brain Function
There are actually some specific foods that can boost brain power, memory, and overall academic performance. According to leading nutrition researchers, certain foods can not only help build better brains, but they can also provide school-age children with the concentration required to sit still during story time, work through studies and homework, and yet still be energetic enough to play and enjoy themselves. While many of these power foods may not be at the top of the list for your kids, Susan L. Johnson, PhD, Director of the Children’s Eating Laboratory at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center tells that with kids, nutrition is all about structure and consistency. “Once new foods become predictable, they’ll come around,” she explains.
The Most Important Meal: Breakfast
Breakfast is paramount for school-age kids and in fact, research has shown that breakfast-eaters do better academically and have fewer behavior problems than those who skip breakfast.
In a study at Tufts University, children between the ages of 9 and 11 were given an option of cold cereal, oatmeal, or no breakfast at all, and then tested their memory at school over several weeks. It was found that the oatmeal-eaters performed far better on spatialmemory tasks and it was concluded that oatmeal-a whole grain that is high in fiber-digests slowly and provides children with a steady stream of energy.
Whole Wheat Bread
Not only are whole wheat breads rich in fiber, but also rich in folate, a B vitamin that is used to manufacture memory cells in the brain. Folate has brain-building effects and overall, whole grains are a good source of other B vitamins that have also been shown to improve alertness.
While most fruits are not brain foods, they do offer children a distinct learning advantage since constipation is a common issue these days. As a result, kids often drag through their school day feeling sluggish and lethargic.
Fortified whole grain cereals are rich in folate, complex carbs, and easy-to-access protein and are also a great source of vitamin B12. Avoid high sugar and high color cereals and instead, opt for whole grain and no sugar options with dry fruits.
Eggs contain choline, which is important for the development of memory stem cells, formed deep within our brains. The more cells we have, the better our memories. According to research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, a cholinerich diet may aid new memory cell production throughout childhood.
If you’re having trouble getting your child to eat their vegetables, here are several different ideas to try
- Try different dips for things like carrot sticks and pepper slices that may help your kids eat their veggies. Things like hummus, salsa, and low-fat yogurt dips are all great choices for school lunches.
- You can hide the vegetables by chopping them very finely in things like soups and sauces or even add them to smoothies.
- Make lunches fun and something your kids will look forward to. Cut sandwiches into shapes with cookie cutters, put sliced fruits on kebab sticks, or pack a homemade “lunchables” container for pizza or even tacos for your kids to assemble themselves.
- Even a simple name change such as referring to broccoli as ‘little trees’ or cut apples as ‘little moons’ can be amusing for a young child and can positively impact food choices. Make healthier versions of your favorite foods together; if your child loves French fries, you can make baked sweet potato fries or chips.
- Instead of deep fried chicken nuggets, use wholegrain panko and chicken breast and make them at home in the oven.
- Make a homemade pizza on a whole wheat crust with reduced fat cheese and fresh toppings. The possibilities are endless for healthy, portable school lunches your kids will love