(www.BlackDoctor.org) -- For some parents this is the most dreaded time of the year. As the onset of the school year reaches the horizon, back-to-school preparations must begin. There are school clothes to buy and a seemingly endless list of school supplies that must be attained. But making sure your child has what he or she needs for the school year is more than just having the right lunchbox, it’s having the right lunch to go in it.
How can you make sure your child isn’t going from Popsicles to Pop-Tarts as back-to-school season approaches? By making sure that from breakfast to dinner and all the snacks in between, the foods he eats are meeting his nutritional needs.
Those nutritional needs vary, not only from child to child, but also from season to season. Nutritionists say that children’s activity levels may change from the summertime, depending on what their school day looks like. This is very possible since physical education classes are being cut and some schools may not have many extra-curricular or after school activities. In this regard, age can make a difference. Elementary school children often have recess time to get some exercise. This isn’t always the case with older students, for whom back-to-school time can mean trading in summertime skating, biking and hiking for a more sedentary daily routine. So swap the summer sweets with long-burning energy that's good for the brain, such as Omega-3-packed nuts and fish.
Routines also change drastically, and as a result it’s tempting to serve your kids pre-packaged, on-the-run foods as they hustle out the door. However, these pre-packaged breakfast solutions aren’t healthy. Cereal bars have as much sugar as sugar-sweetened cereals and packaged breakfast sandwiches contain high amounts of fat and calories. A balanced breakfast, no matter how quick, should contain protein, healthful carbohydrates, fats and fiber with little or no added sugar and saturated or trans fats.
While a healthy breakfast is a good start, making sure the rest of your child’s day is filled with nutritious food is important, too. When you pick out that lunchbox, make sure to choose an insulated one that keeps foods at a constant temperature. That way you can pack anything from soups to tuna sandwiches without worrying about spoilage.
If, however, you’re unable to pack a lunch (or teen refuses to take one), be sure to check out the school’s lunch menu. Many schools offer a la carte options in addition to the regular meal, so you can encourage your child to eat from the salad bar, or to grab some fruit to go with his or her lunch. And don’t worry too much if your child makes poor choices. With a healthy breakfast, nutritious after-school snacks, and a well-balanced dinner, the nutritional damage can be minimized. What do those on-the-go breakfasts and nutritious after-school snacks look like? Here are some easy ideas:
-- Grab bags containing combinations of non-sugary cereals, nuts and dried fruit.
-- Hard-boiled eggs
-- Walnuts or almonds, either mixed with a little yogurt or plain.
-- Fresh fruit
-- Ants on a Log (peanut butter-filled celery slices with raisins on top). If your kids hate celery, try apple slices instead.
-- Mini-bagels with low-fat cream cheese
-- Pre-sliced fruit or vegetables, all ready to go in the fridge.
-- Frozen seedless grapes
Above all, don’t forget that nutrition isn’t just about feeding your child right. It’s about making sure he or she is using that fuel to stay healthy. As school starts up, help your child find a form of exercise he or she will stick with, whether it’s a team or individual sport or even the Wii Fit.
BDO (www.BlackDoctor.org) is the World’s largest and most comprehensive online health resource specifically targeted to African Americans.