The Importance of Preparing Your Back-to-School Nutrition Supplies
It’s that time of year when back-to-school shopping is in full swing. School bags, lunch containers, pencil cases, glue sticks, labels, and more. But before you finish your list, we want to ensure that you haven’t missed one very important element: planning for your child’s optimal nutrition.
Did you know that starting the day with breakfast and offering sources of nourishment throughout the day not only gives your child energy, but has also been proven to support better concentration in the classroom and retention of information?! Researchers have established a significant link between nutrition, behavior, concentration, and academic performance (Bellisle, 2004; Sorhaindo & Feinstein, 2006). But the connection actually starts before the school age years, and continues throughout. Nutritional deficiencies (particularly zinc, B vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and protein) early in life can affect the cognitive development of school aged children (Sorhaindo & Feinstein, 2006).
What we can learn from this valuable research is that if a child is given consistent and adequate nourishment, they in turn will have the energy to focus in the classroom, retain information, and score better on assessments. Belot and James (2009) found that students who were offered freshly made meals at school scored higher on English and science tests than students who did not have access to these meals. Not only does this give the child the opportunity to understand the curriculum well, but it also supports their level of self confidence and self efficacy.
With such solid evidence that nutrition matters, let’s talk a little more about how we can meet our children’s nutritional needs.
The intensity of the morning rush can often lead to skipping one of the most important steps in your child’s day: morning nourishment!
Children who have the opportunity to eat breakfast are able to concentrate longer, retain more information, and in turn score higher on standardized testing. Researchers have found that access to nutrition, particularly breakfast, can enhance a student’s psychosocial well-being, reduce aggression and school suspensions, and in turn decrease discipline problems (Brown et al., 2008). From a nutritional standpoint, children who miss breakfast often do not meet targets for brain building nutrients such as iron and omega 3 fatty acids as well as bone building nutrients such as protein and calcium. Also, individuals who regularly eat breakfast tend to crave fewer sugar-dense foods later in the day.
Creating time for breakfast is a small habit that we can instill in our children that can have an exponential return on investment when looking at physical and cognitive growth and development, academic success, and an optimal rate of weight gain.
Building a Breakfast for Success
But the story doesn’t stop here, it’s not just about eating breakfast, it’s about what is eaten for breakfast. While some food is better than no food at all, offering children a sugar-laden cereal or pop tart does not set them up for the success that the researchers are finding. Ideally this meal that breaks the fast that our body has been in overnight has 4 key elements:
- A source of energy such as whole grains for optimal concentration and performance in the classroom
- A source of protein such as nuts, seeds, milk, yogurt, cheese, or eggs for optimal muscle and bone growth and development
- A source of omega 3 fatty acids such as hemp hearts, nuts, seeds, or ground flax seed for optimal brain and eye health and development
- a source of antioxidants, such as brightly coloured vegetables and fruit for optimal immunity against acute and chronic illnesses.
For example, try whole grain toast with mashed avocado, a hard boiled egg, and sliced strawberries. If your child is not very interested in breakfast, try making a smoothie with 6 oz of milk with 1 scoop of Healthy Height protein powder, 1 tsp, ground flax seed, and ½ cup frozen berries. Both of these breakfasts offer the nutritional elements described above, one is just more compact creating a higher level of both caloric and nutrient density.
Building a Nutrient-Dense Breakfast
Okay, so what exactly is caloric and nutrient density. It refers to determining a way to get the most nutrients in the smallest volume of food. For example, you can make oatmeal with water or milk. When made with milk it is the same volume but has more protein, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, etc. in each bite. If we take that oatmeal and stir in hemp hearts we are again adding more nutrition without adding volume. This is especially important for children that are selective eaters, slow eaters, or lose interest quickly at a meal or snack.
This same concept can be applied to Healthy Height. You can offer your child a glass of milk, a smoothie, a bowl of yogurt with or without Healthy Height. When you add it the volume doesn’t change, but the concentration of bone building nutrients does. And since 90% of our bone is laid before the age of 18, the school age years are a vital time to meet the body’s needs for protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Nutrient-Dense Breakfast Examples
If the scenario above sounds valuable to you, here are a few ideas for nutrient and calorie dense breakfasts that work well in our home:
- Create a Banana Boat with ½ banana, 1-2 Tbsp. of your favourite nut/seed butter and a sprinkle of hemp hearts and pair it with 4 oz of milk blended with ½ scoop of Healthy Height
- Try offering a Superhero Shake with 6 oz of milk, ½-1 scoop vanilla Healthy Height, ½ cup frozen blueberries, 1 handful of baby spinach, 1 tsp. ground flax seed, and 2 Tbsp. oats.
- Create a Breakfast Blender Volcano. They can add ½ cup yogurt, ½ cup milk, ½ scoop chocolate Healthy Height, ½ banana, and 2 pitted dates. Pour into a bowl ending with the centre elevated. Then sprinkle granola, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and raisins on top.
Getting a solid start to the day is key, but continued nourishment is essential too. Here are a few tips when you are packing your children’s lunch boxes this year.
- Challenge yourself to see how many colours you can offer in their lunch box as each colour offers different nutrients AND the variety is a nice visual for your child when they open their lunch. They taste first with their eyes!
- Try to include representation from each food group to provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants with a nice balance of energy from carbohydrates, protein for their growing muscles and bones, healthy fats for brain growth and satiety.
- Choose a lunch box that allows your child to see the whole lunch at once rather than needing to open several small containers.
- Allow your child to be involved in making their lunches. Ask them if they would like carrots or cucumbers, pita with hummus or SunButter on a wrap. Ask them to help put the berries or sliced cucumbers into their lunchbox. The more involved they are, the more invested they feel, the more likely they are to eat their lunch.
- Remember that the goal is to offer nourishment to children and not a gourmet meal. So it is 100% okay to offer a “snack lunch” of a homemade muffin, cucumber slices, hummus, grapes, pumpkin seeds, and an insulated thermos with 4-6 oz of milk mixed with 1/2-1 scoop of Healthy Height. The funny thing is that sometimes these “easier” lunches are the ones that are loved most!
The After School Snack Rush
After a full day at school, no matter how much food kids have eaten, they tend to come home ready for more! This is another really important time in the day to be ready with wholesome nutrition. Setting out a plate of fruit with yogurt dip, veggies and hummus, and whole grain crackers is quick and easy but much more nutrient dense than goldfish crackers or bear claw cookies.
If you are on the go after school to an extra-curricular activity or a visit to the park, try taking a thermos with milk and Healthy Height and a reusable snack bag with a piece of fruit, Nature’s Bakery fig bar, FreeYumm granola bar, or homemade baked goods such as these Mini Donuts:
The Evening Top Up
It is common for parents to wonder if an evening snack is necessary. If it has been more than 90 minutes since you finished supper and/or if your child commonly wakes up hungry in the night, your child may benefit from a small evening snack. The most important point here is that if you are going to offer a snack, you decide what it will be. Then the child can decide if they want it or not. Evening snacks are a great option for filling a nutritional void from the day. For example, if your child did not eat many vegetables that day, offer celery with pumpkin seed butter and raisins for snack. If your child wasn’t interested in the protein sources you offered today, try a smoothie with Healthy Height added in such as this one: Blueberry Smoothie
So as the school year draws closer and you consider all the things your child needs for a successful year, remember to include meal and snack planning on your list of essential tools. Offering adequate bone, muscle, and brain building nutrition will serve them well now and for years to come as they learn and build healthy habits for life!
Key Takeaways for Parents
It's important to focus on your child's overall nutrition for both physical and academic growth. Start the day off right with a quality breakfast, and ensure proper nourishment through lunch and after school.
- Prepare your "back-to-school nutrition supplies" to help your kids have better concentration in the classroom, retain more information and score better on assessments
- Serve meals that include 4 key elements (energy, protein, omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants) to ensure your child is properly nourished
- For selective eaters, serving nutrient-dense foods (A.K.A. the most nutrients in the smallest volume of food) can be a key to success
- Find additional back-to-school expert tips and nutritious Healthy Height recipes to set your kiddos up for a successful school year
Nutrition to Help Kids Grow
Every year our team of Pediatricians at Schneider Children's Medical Center have 20,000 visits from children with issues relating to growth. Our doctors wanted to find a non-invasive way to help children grow and the nutrition in our shake mix is the result of their efforts.