As you prepare your children to go back to school, make sure their backpacks are stocked with everything they'll need to be successful -- and their lunch boxes, too. Good nutrition is critical for learning and behavior, and studies show positive connections between well-nourished kids and their ability to succeed in school.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats both at home and at school can help support brain development and healthy behavior in kids and benefit the whole family. When you're planning school lunches and dinners, keep the following tips in mind.
1. The more fruits and veggies, the better. Be sure to include a wide variety of colors. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals and essential vitamins and minerals that support the brain and overall wellness. Cut-up red, yellow, and green peppers, baby carrots, grapes, cherry tomatoes, berries, and orange segments are all tasty choices that are packed with nutrition.
2. Include brain-friendly protein. We all need a regular supply of protein to fuel the brain, and kids need about a small handful at every meal. Lean meats like chicken and turkey or peanut butter are excellent choices for a sandwich, and keep things interesting by including some nuts, a hard-boiled egg, a mixed bean salad, or cheese cubes on the side.
3. Choose high-quality carbs. Kids need carbohydrates to support blood sugar and maintain sustained energy and brainpower throughout the day. Whole-wheat sandwich bread and wraps are a great place to start, but also go for whole-grain cereal, crackers, and granola. Food labels can be confusing, so look for either the Whole Grains Council's Whole Grain stamp or look for the word "whole" in front of specific grains on the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in descending order, so whole grains should be in the first few ingredients.
4. Know your fats. Healthy fats not only support immunity and the heart but also contribute to normal brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular, which are found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and cod, are found to improve concentration and learning. In one study, kids with higher levels of omega-3s showed improved reading and memory as well as fewer behavior problems. Include at least two servings of fish or seafood in your family's diet each week.
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