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Start the school year by eating right

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 12:21 p.m. CDT

Summer is rapidly coming to a close, and the kids are dreading returning to school. Parents may dread it as well; it can be a daily struggle to pack lunches and make sure the kids have had something to eat before they dash out the door. It will pay off if you make the effort, said a University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

“Although any breakfast is better than no breakfast, making the extra effort to make it healthy might help your kids do better in school. Studies show that kids who eat a balanced breakfast have higher test scores and can concentrate better and solve problems more easily in class,” Leia Kedem said. 

Children with healthier diets may also have fewer behavioral problems. Hunger itself can cause discomfort, crankiness, and outbursts in even the best-behaved kids, she noted. 

“A breakfast low in fiber and protein, like sugary toaster pastries, can lead to a midmorning energy crash,” she said. “Other than sudden fatigue, kids may experience headaches and irritability.” In contrast, a high-protein, high-fiber meal of scrambled eggs on a whole-wheat English muffin will digest more slowly, preventing hunger and keeping blood sugar levels on an even keel, Kedem said. 

“Eating right throughout the day will improve behavior both at home and at school. Kids will concentrate better both in the classroom and at the kitchen table when it’s time for homework,” she added. 

The key is to get kids involved, whether it’s picking fruit at the supermarket or packing lunch together the night before. Offering kids a variety of healthy options and letting them make their own choice can make eating right less of a struggle.

Kids will also be more likely to eat healthy when food is made fun. A breakfast bar, offering oatmeal or yogurt with an assortment of toppings, can help in the morning, and cutting fruit or sandwiches into fun shapes with cookie cutters makes lunchboxes more exciting.

“When it comes to dinner, let kids be involved in the planning. Make it a family activity to find new healthy meal ideas on recipe sites. If your child is more visual, scroll through pictures of healthy recipes on social media websites like Pinterest,” she said. “Brainstorm new ways of preparing old favorites or pick an exotic vegetable to try each week.”

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