As parents, we all want to give our children the tools they need to succeed in school. This means making sure they have all the right school supplies. However, the most important tools a child needs for school are a healthy body and brain.
Here is the Ultimate Nutrition Guide for Back to School to help your child perform at his/her academic best.
At Essential Balance, we always choose food before supplements. However, vitamin D is the one exception. In Canada, it is very difficult to obtain vitamin D during the fall and winter months. Vitamin D has been linked to immune health and mood. Most Canadians are deficient in vitamin D, so it is important to take a daily supplement. Just a couple drops in water, or on the tongue before the kids head out to school, is a great way to boost your child’s nutrients in the morning.
Ever had your child come home from school with a tummy-ache? There could be many reasons for this, including nerves. However, constipation and other digestive issues in children are quite common. The digestive system is also one of the first lines of defense against pathogens. A healthy gut will lead to a healthy immune system and efficient digestion. A good probiotic supplement with breakfast is a positive start to a school day, as well.
As a child, I don’t think I ever drank water at school. The main sources of water were those fountains which kids always put their mouths on (gross!). Nowadays, schools have large fountains to fill up a water bottle. Hydration is so important for a child’s energy levels, concentration and overall health. Let your child pick out their own water bottle and fill it up with filtered water. I will occasionally add something to flavour the water such as fruit, lemon, or herbal teas. If your kids are anything like mine, you may also want to buy more than one water bottle, after they lose the first.
Omega 3’s are healthy fats which are vital for the brain and nervous system. I try to incorporate omega-3-rich foods in almost every one of my kids’ meals. Omega 3’s can be found in nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds. They are also found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. The easiest way to get kids to eat omega 3’s is to sprinkle some hemp seeds onto their food. I find this is much easier than trying to get them to eat sardines.
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Here’s why; let’s take a teen, for instance, who skips breakfast to sleep in. By 10:00am, their blood sugar begins to drop. Maybe they will even feel tired and fall asleep in class. After a while, the body, in effort to wake itself up, will boost cortisol. This is our long-term stress hormone. The cortisol may make the teen feel anxious, irritable and they will definitely crave sugar.
After a trip to the vending machine, blood sugar levels will spike. The body will release insulin to lower blood sugar. However, in the case of a drastic blood sugar spike, it will almost always over-compensate, causing blood sugar to drop too low again. The body will again crave fast burning fuel (i.e. sugar). Then the teen may choose to pass on the homemade lunch and opt for a cookie and French fries from the cafeteria instead.
By 3:00pm, blood sugar will be low again, so the teen will stop on the way home from school for some candy. By the time the school day is over, they will feel exhausted and irritable. This is not to say that no breakfast is the sole cause of moody teenagers. However, high school has enough up and downs without adding blood sugar spikes on top of it.
For younger kids and toddlers, it can be even worse, as they cannot always verbalize how they are feeling. All you will see is a hyper, irritable, and unfocused child.
Breakfast should always include a protein, some healthy fat and fiber. If you can add in some fruits or vegetables, it’s an added bonus. Some healthy breakfast ideas include homemade granola, overnight oats (prepare in the evening, to save on the rush in the morning), and nut or seed butter on a rice cake.
Creating a healthy lunch can be even more difficult than a healthy breakfast. Kids are more distracted at school and less likely to eat. Also, something that may appeal to them at home, may seem less appetizing if it has been sitting a lunch box all morning. What seems to be easiest is bento lunches. It is much easier to get a child to eat four smaller portions than one large portion.
Kids pick at their lunches anyway, so smaller finger foods are usually easier for them to eat. You cannot expect a school lunch to be the most nutritious meal of the day. For my children, I usually pack bento box lunches with 4 sections: 1 protein/main and 2 vegetables and either a treat or a dip of some kind. The protein may include some organic nitrite-free turkey slices, chickpea nuggets, chopped chicken breast, or a small sandwich. Then I’ll pick their favourite vegetables, such as cucumber, avocado, tomatoes, carrot sticks or roasted broccoli. The “treat” might include some brown rice crackers, homemade dip for the veggies or ketchup for the nuggets. Getting your children involved in making their lunch will help take the mystery out of the lunch box. If they are not surprised about what’s inside, it will remove some hesitation to eat it.
Snacks for most adults are just for fun. However, children have a harder time regulating blood sugar than adults. Therefore, snacks are actually an integral part of a child’s diet. Just like a meal, a snack should have protein, fiber, and healthy fats to keep blood sugar stable. There is something very difficult about healthy school snacks. What is the easiest non-perishable source of protein, fat and fiber…you guessed it, Nuts! Of course, nuts are not allowed in school (and for good reason.) So, this means we need to be creative to find healthy protein-rich, school-safe snacks. One good source is seeds, however we must also use caution to ensure the seeds were processed in a nut-free facility. Here are some ideas of healthy, nut-free school snacks:
A child from age 6-12 needs approximately 9-12 hours of sleep a night; a teen needs about 8-10 hours of sleep a night. A well-rested child will be more focused and ready to learn. The problem is getting your child or teen to go to bed willingly. Here are some tips for healthy sleep:
So, as we check off our back-to-school list, it is vital to include the above-listed tips to support your child’s learning. Certainly, it can be frustrating as parents when we cannot get our child to eat the right foods or do their homework. All we can do is guide a child in the right direction. The delicious suggestions above should support your efforts.
Consistency is key. So, continue to pack a healthy lunch for your child, even if you know that half of it will be coming back. Don’t get discouraged. Children don’t always listen to their parents, but they are certainly always watching what we are doing. Best to lead by example and make sure you are taking care of your own health as well.
Certified Nutritionist Kirsten Colella is the mother of 3 energetic children, so she has lots of experience preparing nutritious and fun bento-lunch boxes for her kids. Kirsten showcases her kid-friendly recipes, which focus on including healthy fats, fibre and easy-to-digest proteins, on our Instagram page at @essentialbalanceholistic