Information for Parents About Nutrition and School Performance 

Eating For Success

When most parents send their children to school in the morning, they check for the coat, the mittens, the homework, the permission slip - all the details that prepare a child for a successful day at school.

Right at the top of that parental checklist should be good nutrition, for the body and the mind. An average school day requires a level of energy and alertness that most adults would find daunting. To stay equal to the task, kids need a steady supply of good nutrients throughout the day.

Good fuel = Good performance.

Nutrition affects learning, attention, stamina, reflexes, growth and strength. A nutritious diet is particularly vital for children and teens with growing bodies. Poor nutrition can cause long-term erosion of a child's general health, making a youngster more susceptible to illness and injury.

Left to their own choices, most kids will consume a consistent diet of "fast food" - high fat, high sugar, high calorie foods such as french fries and hamburgers, chips and candy. And many skip breakfast altogether, increasing their risk for lowered learning ability, higher cholesterol levels and obesity.

It is important for parents to guide their children toward good nutrition and give youngsters a solid physical and mental base for school and for play. The habits they form now regarding nutrition will support them now and last a lifetime.

What's A Parent To Do?

Ensuring that a child eats well is not an easy task for a parent. Young people find it difficult to see beyond immediate gratification and to grasp the relationship between what they eat and how they feel. But the following tips can help :

1. Make sure your child eats breakfast every day.

The American Dietetic Association reports that children who eat breakfast perform better in school and are more likely to remember what they learned. They are better at problem-solving, verbal fluency and creativity. On the other hand, hungry children often have difficulty concentrating and are fidgety and easily distracted.

If your children don't like traditional breakfast foods, don't despair. A grilled cheese sandwich, baked potato, fruit, spaghetti or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be considered breakfast, too. As long as your children eat a meal in the morning, they should have the energy needed for a morning's activities.

2. Teach by example.

Remember that while kids may follow your guidelines, they'll learn from your example. Before you try to change your youngsters' eating habits, evaluate your own. Stocking your home with good foods and eating well yourself may be much more effective (and less tiring) than trying to nag your kids into healthy eating habits.

Take a quick tour of your kitchen. Remove all those high-sugar or high-fat,low-nutrition snack foods from your kitchen. Replace them with healthy snacks such as pretzels, ,juices, tasty veggies and fruits.


3. If your child packs a lunch, make it nutritious.Food Pyramid

The public school lunch program is designed with nutrition in mind, but some kids prefer to pack a lunch. Parents should make sure the contents of a packed lunch are nutritious.

Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy diet is seen as a pyramid, with the largest part at the base made up of starches and grains. Foods like bread, cereal, rice and pasta should be the foundation of a balanced diet. They can be good sources of fiber and are often low in fat.

A slightly smaller diet component should be vegetables and fruits. Both are good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber, with almost no fat. The next section, which should be a still smaller portion of a balanced diet, includes dairy products and meats - things like milk, yogurt, beef, fish and eggs. These are all good sources of protein, iron, B vitamins, calcium and other nutrients. Choose low fat foods from this group like skim or 1% milk and lean meat or skinless poultry.

The top of the pyramid (the smallest section) includes foods that are lowest in nutritional value, but often highest in calories. These foods are often called "empty calorie foods" and include french fries, candy, chips and sweets like doughnuts and cookies. When used in moderation, these foods can be a part of a healthy diet. Variety is the key to eating healthy.

We can all find ourselves in dietary ruts and it can be fun and interesting to try new foods. The food pyramid can help guide you in supporting your child's health, as well as forming habits that your children will carry throughout their lives and the lives of their children.


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