As children and parents gear up for the school year ahead, it’s important to refocus on healthy eating habits that may have been lost or overlooked during the summer months. Pediatric experts at the Maimonides Children’s Hospital urge parents to ensure children receive proper nutrition when starting the new academic year.
Studies suggest that the quality of the food children eat can have a direct effect not only on their health, but also on their behavioral and academic performance in the classroom.
Dr. Ravi Saksena, Pediatric Attending at Maimonides Medical Center, says, “Although it can be challenging to make time for a good breakfast before school, it’s the most important meal of the day for children and should not be skipped.” He adds, “Studies have shown that children who consume a healthy breakfast have better school attendance, better concentration and higher test scores.”
Nutrients and energy from healthy foods support a child’s cognitive and physical functions. Eating breakfast before school can positively affect the brain’s short-term blood sugar requirements, which can improve memory, problem solving skills and concentration levels – all essential for a successful school year. A healthy breakfast has also been shown to improve both alertness and mood – whereas hunger can distract children, causing irritability, moodiness and lethargy.
A balanced lunch is also very important. Proper nutrition, including an adequate intake of protein, vitamins and minerals, is necessary for maintaining good academic performance.
“Parents can prepare healthy food for breakfast and lunchtime in advance,” explained Dr. Saksena. “This cuts down on last-minute hassles and poor eating choices.”
Dr. Saksena shares these nutrition tips to ensure your little one is making healthy decisions:
- Prepare a breakfast and lunch menu the evening before. Follow the “rule of threes” by incorporating three of the five food groups into your child’s breakfast. Whole-grain breads, fruit, cheese, yogurt or cereals high in fiber, are all healthy options. If you are able to pack your child’s lunch at night, you will have more time to prepare a healthy breakfast in the morning.
- Involve children in planning meals. Whether your child eats school lunch or brings lunch from home, discuss what kinds of healthy foods he or she would like to eat – choosing from whole-grains, lean protein, fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy. If you pack lunch for your child, encourage your child to help you plan and prepare the meal.
- Incorporate healthy snack choices. Fruit and vegetables make for easy snacks (whole or sliced), and can be paired with whole-grain crackers or bread, low-fat dips, or peanut butter and cheese to add protein.
- Add color to meals. Children are more likely to eat enthusiastically if there is some color on the plate and the food is visually appealing. Embellish cereal or oatmeal with fresh, colorful fruit – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and peaches are all great options.
- Pack in the protein. It’s important to incorporate protein such as meat, fish, eggs, beans or nuts into your child’s diet because protein helps keep a person feeling full for longer periods of time.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Advise your child to drink water or unsweetened beverages. Limit soda, energy drinks and sports drinks, as these beverages are a major source of added sugar, caffeine and calories.
- Avoid packaged and highly processed foods. Although convenient, packaged and overly processed foods can be loaded with sugar and sodium, as well as unhealthy preservatives. Instead, include fresh protein, fruit and vegetables in each meal to keep the food as healthy as possible.
- Talk nutrition. Make sure your child understands the importance of healthy eating and how it affects their body. Read food labels together so your child can begin to understand the importance and function of nutrients.
“The habits developed during childhood and adolescence often carry on into adulthood,” noted Dr. Saksena. “So, while you prepare your child to succeed in the classroom, it’s important to prepare them to succeed in the lunchroom, too.”
The Maimonides Children's Hospital is one of New York City's leading pediatric hospitals, specifically focused on the treatment and care of infants, children and adolescents. We provide the full range of pediatric services, specialties and sub-specialties to ensure your child receives the best care possible. For more information on the outstanding clinical services provided at the Maimonides Children’s Hospital, please visit here.