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Nutrition tips to jump-start your school year

Debbie Petitpain | MUSC News Center | September 9, 2014

School Nutrition
Sarah Pack

Whether you have little ones you are sending off to school, you are starting classes yourself or you are just dealing with the changes in traffic patterns, there is no doubt that school is in!

Staying healthy while you adjust to the school year can take some planning but it can be done! Here are the 1, 2, 3’s for a healthy school year!

1.    Start with breakfast.

No doubt you have heard before that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” but there is a lot of evidence to support this statement.

The benefits of eating breakfast are many and have been documented for decades and show that children who eat breakfast, compared to those who don’t, are less likely to be overweight, have improved nutrition, eat more fruits, drink more milk, and consume a wider variety of foods.

Schools that offer free breakfast to all students report decreases in discipline, psychological problems, visits to school nurses, tardiness, increases in student attentiveness and attendance, and a generally improved learning environment. Adults who eat breakfast have been found to have improved performance in mental tasks and concentration, improved feelings of fullness and satiety, less crankiness, decreased rates of carb cravings, better control of blood sugar levels, and may even lead to a longer-than-average life span. Dieters who eat breakfast are more likely to lose weight, lose inches around their waist and report a longer sense of fullness.

Debbie Petitpain Nutrition 

Breakfast should provide both protein and fiber. A high-fiber (at least 3 g per serving), low-sugar cereal with low fat milk or natural peanut butter on a whole grain waffle are examples of protein-fiber combos. Other protein sources include eggs, yogurt, and cottage cheese but don't be afraid to try shrimp, salmon or even leftover chicken or meat from the dinner before. Add some fiber like a piece of fruit, high fiber cereal or whole grain bread, or add in some vegetables like sautéed spinach, onions, mushrooms to your omelet or sliced tomato on your breakfast sandwich. Watch out for white flour, high sugar combos like pancakes with syrup or pop tarts which can lead to a mid-morning energy crash.


2.    Choose a healthy lunch.

The best way to make sure there is a healthy lunch is to plan ahead.

If your child eats school lunch, get a copy of the menu for the week or month and discuss what the best option is daily. Have a discussion about a la carte items like chips, cookies and ice cream – how often can he purchase something? Are there healthier treats he can buy or bring from home instead?

Packing a lunch – for yourself or your child – will guarantee a healthy option mid-day. Lunches should include a whole grain, lean protein and fruit or vegetable and low fat dairy. Pack your lunch the night before or even make up individual containers of your lunch components at the beginning of the week. For example, 5 baggies of cut up veggies, 5 washed apples, 5 sandwiches (which freeze great!), etc. Include your child in the planning of his lunch. Have him help decide what to purchase and have him help wash, chop and bag it up. Instead of a sugary drink, pack water, 100% fruit juice or some milk money. Slide in a note, special pencil, eraser, sticker or other “sweet” surprise for your child. If you have a fridge in your office, consider bringing in enough food for lunch for the week on Monday and when you eat in the cafeterias, look for the symbols, such as the Mindful one that MUSC uses, which indicates the healthiest choices.  For a fun idea on how to pack a salad in a jar:

3.    Get enough sleep!

We get used to staying up late with the sun during the summer months and need to shift bed times earlier everyone is getting enough sleep despite a new early bell or bus pick up time.

Sleep needs vary from individual to individual but generally, adults need 7-9 hours per night while school aged children (ages 5-10) need 10-11 hours per night; teenagers fall somewhere in the middle. It is easy in today’s fast-paced, over committed life to consider sleep as a luxury and it’s often the first healthy behavior to get cut short. However, research shows sleep is when our brain processes the new information we have learned and may be required for us to properly store and make memories. Sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to retrieve information, affects our ability to make good decisions, affects our physical performance and, of course, negatively impacts our mood. Sleep deprivation has also been associated with weight trouble and increased feelings of stress.  

To create healthy sleep habits, establish a consistent bed time (that is also consistent on the weekends), have a predictable bedtime routine (eg: bath, stories, lights out), create a comfortable sleeping environment that is cool, dark and free of electronics. Daytime habits that promote good sleep include getting in daily physical activity and limiting caffeine, especially in children.  Here is a great chart to see how much sleep you need:

Sliding back into the swing of things with the start of school can take some tweaking and planning. By eating well and sleeping well, your health benefits will pay off all year long!

Debbie Petitpain, RDN, is a Sodexo Wellness Dietitian in MUSC’s Office of Health Promotion.




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Resources >>

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MUSC Wellness Center

MUSC News Center archives


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