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Healthy Diet

Vol. 18 •Issue 35 • Page 22
Healthy Diet

Helps children in the classroom

Food does more than satisfy hunger. It also provides fuel for the body and mind. Eating a healthy breakfast and lunch can help children prepare for the classroom.

A balanced, healthy diet enables neurotransmitters in the brain to function more efficiently, producing better concentration and memory, said Catherine Kraus, RD, MEd, a certified health education specialist and dietitian at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and the University of Michigan (U-M) Health System in Ann Arbor. Well-balanced meals and snacks provide children the energy and nutrition they need to perform well at school.

Students who eat breakfast perform better than students who don't, research has shown. A healthy breakfast consists of a whole-grain cereal, oatmeal or bread with a form of protein, such as peanut butter or a hard-boiled egg. Adding whole fruit rather than fruit juice provides more vitamins, minerals and fiber. Dairy products are an acceptable addition to breakfast if they are in the form of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese.

Today, many schools are making efforts to include healthier items on lunch menus. However, high-calorie items still exist, including pizza, nachos and sweetened drinks.

"When children consume a high-fat, high-sugar meal, their bodies will crash," explained Kraus. "They will be come very tired and lethargic, which is not going to help them perform at their best level in school."

A lunch with variety is best. Providing an assortment of fruits and vegetables in various colors and sizes ensures that children receive a mix of vitamins and minerals and prevents them from becoming bored with the same lunch every day.

Kraus recommends including a whole-grain product in the meal, such as tortillas or bread, and a lean protein, such as tuna, turkey or chicken.

Sweetened beverages are full of empty calories and don't provide any nutritional value. Beverages that do not contain added sugars include water, fat-free or low-fat milk, and 100 percent fruit juice.

When it comes to snack foods, the proper adage to follow is "out of sight, out of mind," Kraus said. "Keeping healthy food [on hand] at all times ensures that children will have healthy snack options."

Snack foods should keep children satisfied until dinner and energized for homework and studying. Pairing protein with a high-fiber carbohydrate provides optimal energy and hunger satisfaction.

For example, string cheese or peanut butter can be served with whole-grain crackers, and half a sandwich can be prepared with whole-grain bread or pita. Blend yogurt and fruit together to create a healthy, homemade smoothie.

In the evening "a smart dinner will help a child's brain function," said Kraus. "If they are satisfied after dinner, they will sleep through the night. A child needs at least eight to nine hours of sleep a night in order to function at school the next day."

Fruits and vegetables should make up half of a "smart" dinner plate. A quarter of the plate should consist of a lean protein, and the remaining quarter should be filled with whole grains, such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta.

Encouraging children to eat smart during the school day can help them develop healthy habits for life, Kraus said. "Childhood is a crucial time when bodies are growing and brains are developing. It's important to fuel the body with good nutrition. Teaching children smart eating habits at a young age is a great idea."

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