Many students in the Ozarks are starting school, some for the first time. University of Missouri Extension Nutrition and Health Education Specialist Cammie Younger, says the connection between healthy food choices and learning cannot be overstated.
“Research clearly indicates the collaboration of proper nutrients and the ability to learn and develop at a healthy level,” said Younger.
According to Younger, school lunch programs have worked hard in the past few years to improve the nutritional value of the meals served to students. However, many parents and students prefer to pack a lunch filled with their favorite choices.
Tricks to ensure a healthy lunch include: allowing children to help prepare the food to be packed and giving children several healthy food choices to pick which ones they would like for the day.
“Make the choice between things like carrot sticks, grape tomatoes or sliced cumbers for their vegetable and maybe a choice of an apple, banana or blueberries for a fruit,” said Younger. “This will help support the rule of making half of a meal consist of fruits and vegetables.”
Another school lunch box rule to focus on would be to include a dairy product. Choices like flavored milk, string cheese or cheese cubes, yogurt or “go-gurt” seem to be things kids enjoy and are packed with nutrients.
These foods along with foods from the protein and grain group (like a turkey or peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread) will give kids a well-balanced meal in the middle of the day. Younger says this will refuel their brains for the learning power needed in afternoon classes.
“Another important tool for success in packing school lunch boxes is to remember the rules of food safety,” said Younger.
Make sure children follow proper hand washing techniques: washing with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds and adequately rinsing and drying their hands before handling food products, food prep surfaces and storage containers.
“Also remember to wash fresh fruits and vegetable before they are packed. Train children to use a clean insulated lunch box and add an ice pack or a frozen bottle of water to ensure food stays at the proper temperature until ready for use,” said Younger.
Schools mornings are typically rushed so a time management tool Younger suggests is to prepare lunch boxes the evening before when the family is not as rushed.
“Store the prepared lunch box in the refrigerator and it will be ready to grab and go giving the kids the best opportunity to enjoy a safe healthy lunch that they helped prepare,” said Younger. “A well-balanced diet is an incredible tool in assuring healthy child development. These lunch box rules and tips can play an important part in reaching this every day goal.”
For more information on nutrition, contact one of the following nutrition specialists: Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Greene County, (417) 881-8909; or Cammie Younger in Texas County, (417) 967-4545. Information is also available online http://extension.missouri.edu.