It’s that time of year again: shopping for school clothes and school supplies, getting ready for after-school activities and making sure to have everything necessary to prepare good, healthy lunches. It can get a little overwhelming. Here are just a few recommendations for a great school year.
The first concern for a healthy school year is going to be dietary. According to recent studies, two out of three middle school students who eat school lunches regularly are overweight or obese, and additional statistics show they may have higher bad cholesterol or LDL as opposed to children who bring their own lunches from home.
According to Elizabeth Jackson, MD, MPH, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, unhealthy school lunch statistics will continue to climb as the efforts of schools to provide healthier lunch menus to students have a long way to go. Adding a piece of fruit to a school lunch isn’t going to make a major difference when children are not eating enough green vegetables. The natural sugar in fruit is still sugar.
Additionally, the effects of poor nutrition from school lunches go way beyond just weight gain. A child who eats too much fat, sugar, sodium or processed food and too few vitamins and minerals is more likely over time to develop a higher risk for several weight-related chronic health problems. These might include diabetes, kidney stones, bone loss, cancer and heart disease. It’s not just the sedentary children at risk, either; active kids who need more calories than the federal limits are in danger of possibly feeling weak, fatigued or nauseous during sports and exercise.
Ensuring Your Child’s Dietary Health
The only true way to be sure that your child is eating a healthy lunch is to provide that lunch yourself, making sure to include fruits, vegetables and proteins in a well-balanced nutritional combination. Of course, this doesn’t mean that your child can’t have a cafeteria lunch on occasion, but it’s not wise to trust the school to provide your child the nutritional balance he or she needs to get through the day.
Consider limiting your child to a cafeteria lunch one day a week. Since most schools provide a menu, pick the one day each week that the menu offers the most variety of high protein and fiber rich foods and avoid the saturated fats and carbohydrates. The rest of the week, be sure to make a lunch that has great protein sources, vegetables and no prepackaged junk foods.
Your child’s friends may come to school with the latest lunch fads but it’s important for your child to eat healthy. If a lunch bag has one candy, one bag of chips and one package of cookies with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread, that child will be consuming over 1,000 calories in one sitting. The average child needs between 1,800 and 2,000 calories per day depending upon their activity level that is supposed to be divided between 3 meals and 2 snacks.
Remember when preparing that lunch that it’s important for a child to stay hydrated. The best source of hydration is going to be water in a BPA-free bottle. Stainless steel will typically be best but options for BPA-free plastic bottles are increasing. Be sure to fill it up at home each day, understanding that the tap water at many schools will include fluoride and its best to avoid drinking tap water as much as possible.