Tips for packing nutritious school lunches that help students focus
Homework is done, school supplies packed, and now what about packing lunch? As many kids are back in classrooms this fall, it’s important to provide them with the fuel they need to thrive this school year.
To help parents and other caregivers determine which foods to pack for their kids, below are a few answers to common questions about nutrition.
What foods should I pack in my child’s lunch to help them focus in the classroom?
No matter the age, no one performs at their best when they are “hangry.” When considering lunches that will help your child learn their best during class, it’s important to pack foods that will help them stay full and energized. It’s also essential to prevent sugar highs and the inevitable crashes that follow in our bodies. These highs and crashes can disrupt focus and lead to irritability.
Lunches rich in protein and healthy fats are one way to achieve this goal. Specific snack items might include roll-ups made of slices of deli meat, cheese, lettuce and your kids’ favorite dip, such as ranch dressing. Another great option is a homemade smoothie, which can be a great way to hide veggies for picky eaters.
How should I adjust my child’s lunch based on their age group?
Nutritional needs vary among different age groups. Preschool-aged children (about 3-5 years of age) have variable appetites, and they may need to eat more frequently. These younger kids also tend to need more dietary fat for brain development. Some good snack choices for this age group include cheeses, nut butters with no added sugars, salmon, and avocado. You also never want to give kids in this age range large, round, hard foods like whole nuts, as these can cause choking.
Once kids enter elementary school, they can typically stay full for longer periods, as they have a good breakfast. Elementary-aged kids (about 5-10 years of age) also tend to be more independent eaters who want more say in their food choices. Elementary and middle school (about 10-14 years of age) children may need less fat than preschoolers, but it’s still important that they get plenty of protein. Any carbohydrates we offer kids at this age should be complex and rich in vitamins and minerals such as veggies, nut butters, full-fat dairy products, and berries.
Remember that kids are becoming more aware of their body weight at younger ages than before. Children see things in the media and hear comments from their peers, which can begin to negatively impact their body image. Make sure to reinforce concepts about how healthy food helps us to fuel up and power through the day with your children. This can remove the excessive focus on body shape and size from the equation while helping kids to realize the importance of healthy eating.
If you could offer one piece of advice to tweak a child’s lunch in order to help facilitate the best-possible academic performance, what would it be?
In order to make sure you are providing your kids with the best lunch possible, emphasize protein and healthy fats first and avoid nutrient-poor foods like cookies and processed chips. Keep carbohydrates complex and vitamin-rich.
It’s also important to note that a lot of parents have anxiety about sending their kids back to school due to worries around COVID-19 and the Delta variant. One of our best defenses beyond social distancing, masking and hand washing is a balanced diet filled with essential nutrients, minerals and antioxidants to help fortify antiviral defenses. What we eat can absolutely help our bodies withstand the impact of the virus!
Try these tips as you pack your child’s next lunch! When kids are healthy and happy they are fueled for success this school year.