By: Kelly Atyeo, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.
Kids are back at their 35-40 hour a week jobs in the classroom, but what are they eating to fuel their day? In Ontario, initiatives like the Balanced School Day Program are taking place in some schools. The Balanced School Day program aims to get kids eating healthy snacks and being active throughout the day. Part of the program involves removing a 1-hour lunch break and separating it into two 40-45 minute nutrition breaks in the morning and afternoon.1 During this time, kids can eat healthy, smaller meals, which will help them stay energized for the rest of the day. Each of these meals should contain at least 3 of the four food groups (Grains, Meats & Alternatives, Milk Products, and Vegetables & Fruit).2Sounds like a smart plan!
Even if your child’s school does not have a program like this, here are some simple ways to make sure your child is nutritionally having a balanced school day.
First Step: A Healthy Breakfast
The old saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is still the truth! Kids who eat breakfast tend to have better academic performance, don’t get into trouble as much and are more alert.3-5
We all know that the morning rush can sometimes cause us to skip this important meal. Try not to let that happen. The key is keep breakfast simple!
Here are some healthy breakfast ideas. Include at least 3 of the groups from Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide6:
- Cereal with 1% or skim milk, and a glass of 100% orange juice
- Toast with peanut or almond butter, banana and yogurt
- Bagel with cheese, and an apple
Second Step: Provide Healthy Mini Meals/Snacks
Kids are always on the go, making snacks a very important source of nutrients.7 When kids eat healthy snacks throughout the day, it lowers their chances of having drastic changes in blood sugar, which can cause them to be tired and irritable.
Include your child in the snack-decision process! Having your child choose the healthy snacks they want to take to school can help them learn healthy eating behaviours.8
Here are some examples of healthy snacks:
- Fresh fruits like an apple or a banana
- Small muffin such as oatmeal
- Skim or 1% milk or low-fat yogurt
- Whole grain crackers & bite-size cheese squares
- Vegetable sticks with hummus or low-fat dip
Third Step: Send a Healthy Lunch
This is the main meal at school that is going to get your child ready for the final tasks of the day, and maybe even after-school activities. Don’t overwhelm yourself; it doesn’t need to be gourmet! The main concern is that your child’s lunch be full of nutrients and taste great so that it gets eaten.
Try these simple lunch ideas:
- Chicken salad sandwich, 100% fruit juice, apple, and cookie
- Salad with chicken strips, ranch or Caesar dressing, whole grain bun, fruit cup and 1% milk
- Pita with hummus dip, peach, and yogurt
Start with these tips to help you and your kids create their balanced school day. If you are still curious about programs such as The Balanced School Day Program, contact your school and/or health unit.
- Eat Right Ontario. (2012). Food for a Balanced School Day. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/School-Health/Articles/Food-for-a-Balanced-School-Day.aspx
- Nutrition for the Balanced School Day (2008). Retrieved November 15, 2012, from www.wrdsb.ca/schools/nutrition-balanced-school-day
- Murphy, J. et al. (1998). The Relationship of School Breakfast to Psychosocial and Academic Functioning: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Observations in an inner-city School Sample. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 152, 899-907.
- Wahlstrom, K. & Begalle, M. (1999). More than test scores: Results of the universal school breakfast pilot in Minnesota.Topics in Clinical Nutrition, 1, 17-29.
- Wesnes, K. et al. (2003). Breakfast reduces declines in attention and memory over the morning in schoolchildren.Appetite, 41, 329-331.
- Eat Right Ontario. (2012). Make a balanced breakfast a habit in your home. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Child-Toddler-Nutrition/Make-a-balanced-breakfast-a-habit-in-your-home.aspx
- Centre for Science in the Public Interest. (2012). Healthy School Snacks. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from cspinet.org/nutritionpolicy/healthy_school_snacks.html
- Harrison, C. & Crocker, S. (2007). Healthy Eating Matters: Food and Nutrition Toolkit for Residential Care Settings. Toronto: ON, Ministry of Child and Youth Services. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/english/documents/topics/specialneeds/residential/healthy_eating_matters.pdf