By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN
Quickly winding down are the days of a laid back summer schedule, picnics, ice cream outings and the thrill of amusement park or vacation adventures. Creeping back into the school season, August is the time for back to school shopping, more regularity in family meals and slight anxiety for parents about feeding the kiddos at school a nutritious and filling meal. Proper nutrition is one of the most important foundations to influence learning, proper development and growth and establish a lifetime of health eating habits. With adequate nourishment fueling a healthy body, all the goals, dreams and daily activities set forth become a lot easier to accomplish.
Remember, after a peaceful slumber choosing the right fuel is very important to start the day. Nourishing the body with healthy complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat is a winning combination. These macronutrients will work together to set your body up for a steady rise in glucose levels arousing alertness, increased memory function and ability to concentrate all while aiding the many functions of a body in motion. It doesn’t have to be fancy, a big spread or time consuming project—healthy can also be very quick. Examples are:
• A whole grain cereal, milk or non-dairy substitute, and some fresh fruit, such as a half cup of blueberries on the cereal or small glass of fresh juice (4 oz., pasteurized).
• A piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter (made of two ingredients: peanuts and salt), half a banana, and a sprinkle of raisins on top.
• Bananas, grapes, apples, peaches, and plums are great “to go” items to quickly rinse, fold in a napkin, and munch on the way in the car or on the way to school.
• Trail mix is super simple, and there are so many no-bake or healthy granola recipes that will be having the kids ask for more servings of goodness.
• Breakfast doesn’t have to be breakfast foods; it can be other foods, such as leftovers from dinner. One quarter of an avocado on a whole wheat tortilla with some salsa and black beans is a great breakfast burrito, ready in a flash.
Bagged Lunch Makeover
Keep the color coming when “brown bagging it.” Whether packed in a shiny new lunchbox complete with the superhero du jour, literally a brown bag, or opting for the school lunch program, a balanced and colorful lunch is equally important for health. The body and brain need the right fuel to retain the knowledge learned and energy being used as the day goes on. Federal regulations require schools to meet certain nutritional guidelines; food service and school administrators do the best they can to make healthy choices within the strict budgetary confinements and regulations they abide by as well as make the choices appealing. The choices may not be desirable for the child’s needs or preferences and many factors may go into deciding if that is the best option; however, packing lunch can be a great healthy alternative for anyone and, for some, a better option.
Packing lunch may allow for more variety in daily choices, control in what will be included, and a wider expanse of food group options. Portion and content can be controlled (resulting in less food waste which is important for our environmental health) and may be a more satisfying experience overall all while being financially savvy. It also allows for a treat to be included, fun notes or games to be exchanged between child and caregiver, and so many other creative ways to make a fun and joyful lunch experience, all from the inside of a brown bag.
The more fresh ingredients and whole foods, the better. Remake an old standby with these tips. From classic old school to ‘schooled.’
Before: PB&J on white bread, chips, soda/bottled beverage, applesauce, and cookies.
After: This lunch can be made much more appetizing, lower in sugar content, and higher in essential nutrients pretty easily, and this makeover can work with many different examples. Looking at how and where to substitute more nutrient-dense (mostly vitamins, minerals, and healthy macronutrients—think carbohydrate, protein, and fat) and displace others that may be full of sugar, salt, or fat, otherwise known as energy-dense foods with ‘empty calories.’ Following are some ways you could maximize nutrition and taste for this particular lunch:
• Use actual, true peanut butter, meaning it contains peanuts and salt only (look at the ingredients list), a sugar-free or all-fruit jelly spread on a whole wheat, whole rye, or whole oat bread (whole wheat white is OK). Make sure the bread is “whole” grain with at least 4g of fiber per slice. A whole wheat high-fiber tortilla could also be a tasty, nutritious option. How about sprinkling some raisins, dried apples, or dried bananas in the sandwich for a fruit serving instead of jam or jelly?
• Next, swap out the chips for whole-wheat crackers and hummus or a low-fat mozzarella cheese stick (getting in more calcium, fiber, and volume can help with fullness, also known as satiety).
• The soda/bottled beverage can make way for low-fat milk or non-dairy alternatives (soy and pea protein or a combination of nut milks will have the most protein) or good-old fashioned water. Often both are offered in the school commons and can be purchased separately before the meal so it is fresh and cold, or a stainless steel beverage bottle saves the environment and can keep a beverage cold for 24 hours. Another option would be to flavor 8oz. of water with a liquid concentrate, such as MiO or Stur or similar sugar-free water enhancers. A little zing could be naturally added to H20 by dropping in some lemon, orange, and lime slices for flavor with the bonus of some vitamins and minerals.
• Next, how about a small apple instead of applesauce? The apple is higher in fiber and water content, offering more satisfaction and a wider array of sealed in nutrients, with less added sugar and more stimulating sweet crunchiness!
• Replacing the cookies may be a tough negotiation. A treat is certainly allowed, but it can be swapped for a better option, making it still feel like a splurge without an excess of sugar and calories. There are some great healthier cookie options out there now with fiber, whole grains, and other positive benefits, that taste just as yummy as “old standbys” but with less sugar. Another option to satisfy a sweet tooth: make a trail mix with a small amount each of chocolate chips, raisins, almonds, and sunflower seeds, and bypass processed goods altogether. Portioned-control dark chocolate pieces are a great option as well. A small 2 oz. piece of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) or three Hershey kisses finishes up the meal with the perfect indulgence.
Many of the aforementioned items may be purchased in bulk and can actually be less expensive per meal than many prepackaged foods and meals. It will also be better for the environment as you save on packaging (the apple has no container, and the core is biodegradable, of course—
maybe the school or your neighbor has a compost pile or composter).
Tote lunch in style
A good lunch box or bag (and recyclable water bottle) that is well insulated and can be washed easily if something spills is a positive investment for function and personal style. Reusable ice packs can be purchased anywhere in order to keep things cold and safe from bacterial growth for several hours. BPA-free plastic storage containers can be washed and re-used to keep foods fresh and appetizing; no one likes a soggy sandwich.
Other lunch tricks
Popcorn is a fun snack to pack. Cold bean and pasta salads pack a tasty punch. Vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, celery, cherry tomatoes cut up in unique shapes are an appealing way to dunk in dip, dressing or hummus while keeping the colors vibrant and nutrition in check. Tortillas can double as a burrito type sandwich or make great pinwheel snacks with a variety of fillings, brown sushi rolls even (made with vegetables and avocado). Access to a microwave? The possibilities are endless from stews, soups, casseroles and leftovers. Steamed fresh veggies can be added to anything and variety can be expanded further.
Think portion and balance in terms of protein sources, carbohydrates (including fruit), and fat. Every human needs an adequate amount of all three to function and thrive. Superior nutrition is necessary to sustain energy and health from elementary to middle school, mastering high school, going off the college, or starting that dream career—it all matters at every age. A happy and healthy life with positive food choices can help for many years to come. Consult a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to identify your specific needs, expound upon these ideas and learn more about the tools and details that can be helpful and beneficial to you and your family.
You can reach Monique’s private practice at www.eatrightrx.com or 615.525.8670; you can also reach her through State of Franklin Healthcare at 423-795-5520.