With the first day of school right around the corner, it’s time for parents to start brainstorming about healthy meal ideas for breakfast and lunch that won’t break the bank.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day and will allow kids to maintain better focus throughout the day.” For breakfast eaters, its great—but what about non-breakfast eaters?
Ilyse Schapiro, a certified nutritionist encourages “all parents to make sure their child eats a healthy well-balanced breakfast everyday.”
Through her practice in Harrison and Scarsdale, the Mamaroneck resident has learned that when children have a nutritional breakfast, it sets the tone of the child’s day. Schapiro has observed that if children do not eat breakfast, they are prone to feel shaky or light-headed, they will have trouble concentrating and focusing in school, and they will have low blood sugar. If a child has low blood sugar, then they are more likely to crave unhealthier foods throughout the day.
On the other hand, if a child has a well-balanced nutritional breakfast, they are more likely to have more energy and a regulated blood sugar throughout the day, will be in a better mood, and will be able to concentrate better in school.
“I encourage parents to have the children eat something small if they are not hungry, even if it is a small Greek yogurt a piece of toast with peanut butter, or a banana,” said Schapiro. “It is important for children to eat for their body and mind.”
If you’re on the go and don’t have time for a full-blown meal, that doesn’t mean you should go to the quick and easy poptarts or granola bars, which are essentially candy bars.
“I always like to have a ‘fuel mix’ of good carbohydrates like a whole grain, a good healthy fat like peanut or nut butter, and a protein – such as eggs, Greek yogurt or milk,” said Schapiro.
Schapiro recommends making whole grain waffles with a little peanut or almond butter (use sunflower butter if your child is allergic to peanuts), one to two eggs or two to three egg whites with some vegetables and whole wheat toast, or Greek yogurt with mixed fruit and a whole grain high-fiber low-sugar cereal.
If your child is a picky eater, take the time to educate them about how eating breakfast can improve their day because it fuels their body and brain. Schapiro recommends having your children get involved in the cooking process, whether it is washing fruit or putting snacks in a bag because it will get them excited to eat something that they are proud of. Also, try to work with them with what they will and will not eat so it not only makes your a little job easier, but your child will enjoy eating.
Back to school lunches can sometimes get boring with the same peanut butter and jelly or cold cut sandwich everyday. Parents should provide a good quality source of protein, a type of carbohydrate, fruit and a snack.
“A lot of parents these days work, so they do not have time to make extravagant things for lunch,” said Schapiro. But eating lunch is just as important as eating breakfast. “If children don’t eat a healthy lunch, they won’t be able to concentrate in school [after lunchtime] and will be hungrier throughout the day,” said Schapiro. If a child is hungry throughout the day, they will typically end up overeating when they get home because they are depriving their body of nutrients.
Schapiro recommends a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat bread with a side of fruit or vegetables, hummus with pita triangles that can also be dipped in carrots, or tuna fish in a whole-wheat pita pocket stuffed with mixed vegetables.
Make sure to pack your child a snack if they are staying after school for clubs, sports, or other programs. Schapiro recommends packing popcorn without the salt or butter, low-fat string cheese, Greek yogurt, or handful of nuts. Depending on the activity of the child, half of a sandwich can work.
When you’re in the grocery store, be mindful of the ingredients and nutritional facts that are on the products you are buying. When Schapiro goes to the grocery store, she does not buy any items with high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oil, or products with artificial sweeteners.
“Do the best that you can and aim to be healthy 90% of the time because there is room for the occasional food that is not the healthiest,” said Schapiro. “It is okay to not be perfect, but the more natural foods, the better.”