Healthy Lunches Help Kids' Concentration in School

Parents should go light on fats and remember their example is best teacher, expert says

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SUNDAY, Aug. 24, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Healthy foods should be included on the list of back-to-school supplies for your children, says a University of Michigan Health System expert.

Dietitian Catherine Kraus explained that a healthy, balanced diet enables neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) to function more efficiently, resulting in improved concentration and memory.

"Childhood is a crucial time when bodies are growing and brains are developing. Its so important to fuel the body with good nutrition, and teaching children smart eating habits at a young age is a great idea. It starts with the parents serving as the role model," Kraus said in a university news release.

She suggested a number of ways for parents to provide well-balanced meals and snacks to give children the energy and nutrition they need to perform well at school.

Make sure children eat breakfast. Research has shown that children who skip breakfast don't do as well in school as students who eat breakfast. A healthy breakfast includes a whole grain cereal, oatmeal or bread with a protein such as peanut butter or a hard-boiled egg. Including whole fruit instead of fruit juice adds more vitamins, minerals and fiber into the diet. Dairy products are acceptable as long as they're in the form of fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese.

While many schools are striving to include healthier items on their lunch menus, there are still plenty of unhealthy items such as pizza, nachos, and sweetened drinks.

"When children consume a high-fat, high-sugar meal, their bodies will crash, and they will become very tired and lethargic -- which is not going to help them perform at their best level in school," Kraus said.

If you're concerned about the cafeteria choices at school, give your child packed lunches that include a type of whole grain, such as bread or tortillas, with a lean protein, such as tuna, turkey or chicken. Include assortments of fruits and vegetables in various colors and sizes. Healthy beverage choices include water, fat-free or low-fat milk, or 100-percent fruit juice.

At dinner, half of your child's plate should include vegetables and fruit, one-quarter should consist of a lean protein, and one-quarter should contain whole grains, such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta.

"A smart dinner will help your child's brain function. If they are satisfied after dinnertime, then they will sleep through the night, and a child needs at least eight to nine hours of sleep a night in order to function while in the school the next day," Kraus said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and healthy eating.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, August 2008


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