Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Children
James E. Meyer, Nutrition Specialist & County Program Director, Ralls County, University of Missouri Extension
As a new school year approaches, parents should be reminded of
the important role nutrition plays in assuring kids a successful
school year. Nutrition and learning go hand in hand. Kids who
are nutritionally fit are more likely to have the energy,
stamina and self-esteem that enhance their ability to learn.
Running out the door with thoughts of seeing old classmates,
joining new clubs, participating in school sports and getting good grades, kids will not be paying
much attention to the proper nutrition needed to accomplish all
It is often said that breakfast is the most important
meal of the day, yet 35 to 40 percent of all Americans skip breakfast.
The statistics for children are just as alarming — as many as 48
percent of girls and 32 percent of boys do not eat breakfast every
day. Additionally, for many other children, breakfast is a trip to
a convenience store or a vending machine for a soda and a high-fat,
high-sugar pastry. This is definitely not the best choice for
the nutrients they need nor is it cheap. Here are a few tips suggested by the American
Dietetic Association on practical, easy ways to help ensure both
proper nutrition and a successful school year.
Start with a healthy breakfast. For children and teens, a morning
meal is especially important to prepare them to meet the challenges
of learning. Many studies have shown that those who eat a morning
meal tend to perform better in school, score higher on tests, have
higher school attendance and less tardiness, and have better concentration and
muscle coordination. Also, kids who eat breakfast have fewer hunger-induced stomachaches and are less likely to be overweight.
Having said all that, are you wondering how to get a child to
eat breakfast? Where will the extra time needed for a morning meal
come from? You can make breakfast fun by planning it with your
child. Decide who prepares what and work together to get it done.
If your child doesn't like traditional breakfast foods, don't worry
— breakfast foods can be any food they like, even a slice of pizza.
Keep quick-to-fix foods on hand or get breakfast foods ready the
night before, such as mixing a pitcher of juice. If kids say they
are not hungry, start them out with something light like juice or
toast and send them off with a nutritious mid-morning snack such
as yogurt, cheese or a bagel.
Some children believe skipping breakfast may help them lose weight.
Just the opposite is true. Skipping meals often leads to overeating
later in the day. If you get too hungry it can lead to a lack of
control and the inability to determine when you are full. This can
result in consuming more calories than if you had eaten an appropriate
As for lunch, meals served at school contribute significantly
to kids' overall nutrient and energy needs. Do you know what they
are eating? School meals are usually regulated through the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA). Through USDA guidance, many schools
are improving the nutritional quality of lunch and designing the
meals to supply about one-third of a child's nutrition needs.
Parents can play a role in helping a child choose healthful meals
in several ways. Keep the school lunch menu in your kitchen and talk with your child about making
in the cafeteria line. Get involved and work with school staff to
form a parent advisory committee for the school food service program.
Support the nutrition education efforts at your school. Through
Family Nutrition Education Programs (FNEP), educators go into many
schools in Missouri to teach nutrition to kids. Contact your local
University of Missouri Extension office to see if an FNEP educator can come
to your school.
If your child prefers to brown bag it to school, let your child
help plan and prepare school lunches. When they're involved, chances
are they will resist trading their carrots for cookies. Pack meals
that are easy to prepare and fun to eat as well as nutritious. A
few examples are sandwiches, raw veggies, crackers, string cheese,
whole fruit and yogurt or pudding.
Finally, for after-school snacks choose foods that supply needed
nutrients that can be missed in meal choices. Stock up with ready-to-eat
fruits and vegetables, animal crackers, popcorn and cereal. Your
child will appreciate the availability of quick healthy snacks.
Proper nutrition is crucial for social, emotional and psychological development. Teaching children how to eat healthy will enable them to establish a foundation of good nutrition and healthful lifestyle habits that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Last update: Monday, August 18, 2014