Healthy kids

Find out how, with just a few simple swaps and tips, you can send your kids with lunches that will not only help them learn better, they will look forward to eating them, too.

It’s that time again, back to school. Kids are enjoying their last few days of summer vacation while parents are picking up last-minute school supplies and doing the grocery shopping for the first week of school lunches.

Alas, granola bars, juice boxes, yogurt tubes and lunchables will once again become a weekday staple for many children. I believe we owe it to our kids to do better.

As a parent, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to pack a lunch that is both nutritionally balanced and appealing to the child. And, having worked in schools for over a decade, I’ve seen first hand what gets sent in those lunch boxes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we never give our children a treat in their lunch box, but I am a firm believer that everyday food choices should be based first on what is best for the child rather than what is the most fun or easiest to pack.

If asked, I’m sure most parents would agree that good, balanced nutrition helps a child do better in school.

In fact, kids who come to school fuelled by a nutritious breakfast of balanced PFCs (protein, fats, carbs) and bring nutritionally balanced foods with them to eat throughout the day, get sick less often, have more energy, fewer behaviour problems, are better able to focus and attend to the teacher, and generally be more productive.

In short, kids just learn better. What many parents don’t realize is how being nutritionally unbalanced can negatively impact a child’s ability to learn.

Let’s go back to the principle of blood sugar stabilization and start with breakfast.

Breakfast is often the most difficult meal to organize, but it’s also the most needed. Overnight, our bodies go through a “starvation” period and we wake in a state of low blood sugar and near dehydration.

Eating and drinking water within one hour of waking is crucial to hydrate cells, bring blood sugar levels up and provide the body and brain with the nutrients and glucose it needs to function.

Without food, the body essentially feeds off itself and will burn muscle to get the fuel it needs to get us up and going.

It’s no wonder that kids (and adults) who miss breakfast show up to school (or work) yawning, with low energy, have difficulty concentrating on the task at hand and are sometimes a little grumpy.

So you say, well it’s only one meal and they have a lunch, so the rest of the day should be fine, right? Maybe, maybe not. Because the child has missed breakfast, he or she will likely eat most (or all) of that lunch at recess, causing blood sugar levels to spike, only to have it crash again around lunch time when there is very little food left to bring it back up.

Spiking and crashing blood sugar causes hormones to become unbalanced and can cause mood swings, behaviour issues, impaired concentration and focus, lack of overall energy and a general “wiped-out” feeling by the end of the school (or work) day.

Sounds like any kids (or parents) you know? The bad news is that there are a lot of kids out there that fit this description. The good news is it doesn’t have to be your kid.

Being organized is key. Making lunches and planning breakfast the night before, as well as waking up 15 minutes earlier in the morning, are simple strategies to help ensure your child starts his day alert and continues through it focused and ready to learn.

Aim to prepare and pack healthy protein, fat and carbohydrate portions for each time your child eats during the day.

Here are a few of our family’s favourites. Hard-boiled eggs, chicken breast, tuna, salmon and Greek yogurt are all great protein options.

Avoid regular yogurt and tubes as they have very little protein, loads of sugar and colour as well as additives.

Avocado, olives, hard cheeses, hummus, tzatziki, pumpkin or sunflower seeds and spreads like seed butters, rather than our old go-to peanut or nut butters not allowed in schools, are a few examples of healthy fat choices.

Fruits, veggies, oatmeal and quinoa are all excellent choices for the carb portion of each meal.

Use breads, crackers, chips, processed foods, juice boxes, etc., sparingly as these foods cause blood sugar spikes and have very little nutritional value.

Don’t forget to include a large water bottle to wash it all down.

Why not try planning and packing lunches together with your child? Educate your kids on how many PFC meals they will need throughout the day and why, and let them choose the combinations.

Kids who are involved in the process are more likely to eat what they have had a hand in choosing.

You and your child will both learn and grow healthier together. The bottom line is that children will grow up regardless of the level of nutrition we as parents provide them.

How healthy they are during that process and how long they will live as a result of that nutritional foundation is what’s important.

Tania Gustafson is a nutritionist and fitness coach. On the web: fuelignitethrive.com. Email: tania@fuelignitethrive.com. Tune in to her “For the Health of It” podcast every Saturday at 8 a.m. on OkanaganValleyRadio.com