Monday, August 22, 2011

Off To a Good Start?

If summer was the time for embracing spontaneity instead of routine, eating daily popsicles, and sleeping whenever our heads found a spare moment to touch a pillow, the beginning of the school year seems to be the opposite. 
We’re remembering what a regular bedtime looks like.  We recall the need for bathing that doesn’t happen in a giant, chlorinated pool.  Things have made a sudden shift back into ordinary time, requiring both graceful adaptation and errant bits of luck to see us through.   For example, we now have to remind ourselves that meals need structure in order to keep up with a normal day.  Whereas we could have gotten by with a skimpy breakfast or lunch on summer vacation because we’d be snacking all day, school days call for something more substantial. 
Educators around the world can probably attest to the truth behind a good meal’s ability to make a day more productive.  They see students crashing mid-morning after a sugary breakfast and getting juiced up with more short lived energy from an under-nourishing lunch.  Although I don’t have test scores handy to back up my theory, I’d guess that our students’ ability to learn is adversely affected when they aren’t properly fueled with healthful foods. 
To get our kids off to a good start this school year, here are some suggestions for breakfast and lunch that will keep them energetic and ready to learn: 
In the morning, offer fibers like oatmeal and berries.  Unlike a bowl of empty-caloried cereal, the oats and berries will keep kids satisfied longer.  And with plenty of instant or quick-cooking varieties available, the morning’s preparations can still be speedy. 
Make sure breakfast includes a bit of healthy fat and protein.  Think of ways to incorporate peanut butter (on toast, in smoothies, etc.) or whole-milk yogurt into the first meal of the day.  Scrambled eggs with shredded cheese are a quick option, and when paired with a bowl of fresh fruit, this meal can send your kids off with plenty of energy to start the day.
When faced with a rushed morning, it’s easy to grab a toaster waffle or pastry, both of which are full of tricky, energy-sapping ingredients.  Instead, try making a batch of breakfast burritos on the weekend and freezing them so they can be reheated on busy mornings. 
If you’ll be packing your child’s own lunch, it’s good to remember the same rules as with breakfast: fiber and protein will help keep them satisfied until the end of the day. 
Whole-grain pita pockets or tortilla wraps can be filled with leftover turkey or chicken, shredded vegetables, and slices of cheese for a switch from the traditional sandwich.  Kids might also like a bowl of salad or soup if it’s made with their favorite mix of healthy ingredients.
Instead of a whole apple (which is easy to pack but just as easy to throw away) try slicing fruits into a colorful salad for a bright alternative to a boring piece of fruit.  Another possibility for satisfying the dessert craving is to pack a bowl of frozen applesauce or yogurt; the textures are fun and the novelty may just be enough to stand up against any peer-pressured treats.
‘You are what you eat’ is as true now as it’s ever been.  And the new school year is a perfect time to embrace healthy habits that will grow our kids into energetic learners.


  1. For sure nutrition is important to children's ability to learn! Although the studies I'm aware of focused on the inclusion of iodine in diets, which is not generally a first world problem. But if iodized salt can raise IQs 10 points, I'm sure fiber, protein and calcium are all important contributors to both mental and physical well-being too.

  2. So true! It is too bad that so many breakfast foods marketed to busy families are nutritionally deficient. We do a lot of scrambled eggs during the school year. They are inexpensive, nutrient dense and quick to make and eat!


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