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Expert Advice: Preparing Your Back-to-School Nutrition Supplies

The Importance of Preparing Your Back-to-School Nutrition Supplies

Written by: Noelle Martin, MScFN RD. Co-founder of Nourished Beginnings and expert behind @motherhoodandmeals

Boys with lunch going to school

It’s that time of year when back-to-school shopping is in full swing. School bags, lunch containers, pencil cases, glue sticks, labels, and more. But before you finish your list, we want to ensure that you haven’t missed one very important element: planning for your child’s optimal nutrition.

The Impact of Nutrition on Academic Performance

Did you know that starting the day with breakfast and offering sources of nourishment throughout the day not only gives your child energy, but has also been proven to support better concentration in the classroom and retention of information?! Researchers have established a significant link between nutrition, behavior, concentration, and academic performance (Bellisle, 2004; Sorhaindo & Feinstein, 2006). But the connection actually starts before the school age years, and continues throughout. Nutritional deficiencies (particularly zinc, B vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and protein) early in life can affect the cognitive development of school aged children (Sorhaindo & Feinstein, 2006).

What we can learn from this valuable research is that if a child is given consistent and adequate nourishment, they in turn will have the energy to focus in the classroom, retain information, and score better on assessments. Belot and James (2009) found that students who were offered freshly made meals at school scored higher on English and science tests than students who did not have access to these meals. Not only does this give the child the opportunity to understand the curriculum well, but it also supports their level of self confidence and self efficacy.

With such solid evidence that nutrition matters, let’s talk a little more about how we can meet our children’s nutritional needs.

brothers going to school

Start the Day Off with Solid Nutrition

The intensity of the morning rush can often lead to skipping one of the most important steps in your child’s day: morning nourishment!

Children who have the opportunity to eat breakfast are able to concentrate longer, retain more information, and in turn score higher on standardized testing. Researchers have found that access to nutrition, particularly breakfast, can enhance a student’s psychosocial well-being, reduce aggression and school suspensions, and in turn decrease discipline problems (Brown et al., 2008). From a nutritional standpoint, children who miss breakfast often do not meet targets for brain building nutrients such as iron and omega 3 fatty acids as well as bone building nutrients such as protein and calcium. Also, individuals who regularly eat breakfast tend to crave fewer sugar-dense foods later in the day.

Creating time for breakfast is a small habit that we can instill in our children that can have an exponential return on investment when looking at physical and cognitive growth and development, academic success, and an optimal rate of weight gain.

For example, try whole grain toast with mashed avocado, a hard boiled egg, and sliced strawberries. If your child is not very interested in breakfast, try making a smoothie with 6 oz of milk with 1 scoop of Healthy Height protein powder, 1 tsp, ground flax seed, and ½ cup frozen berries. Both of these breakfasts offer the nutritional elements described above, one is just more compact creating a higher level of both caloric and nutrient density.

Building a Nutrient-Dense Breakfast

Okay, so what exactly is caloric and nutrient density. It refers to determining a way to get the most nutrients in the smallest volume of food. For example, you can make oatmeal with water or milk. When made with milk it is the same volume but has more protein, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, etc. in each bite. If we take that oatmeal and stir in hemp hearts we are again adding more nutrition without adding volume. This is especially important for children that are selective eaters, slow eaters, or lose interest quickly at a meal or snack.

This same concept can be applied to Healthy Height. You can offer your child a glass of milk, a smoothie, a bowl of yogurt with or without Healthy Height. When you add it the volume doesn’t change, but the concentration of bone building nutrients does. And since 90% of our bone is laid before the age of 18, the school age years are a vital time to meet the body’s needs for protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Keep Them Nourished Through the Day

Getting a solid start to the day is key, but continued nourishment is essential too. Here are a few tips when you are packing your children’s lunch boxes this year.

The After School Snack Rush

After a full day at school, no matter how much food kids have eaten, they tend to come home ready for more! This is another really important time in the day to be ready with wholesome nutrition. Setting out a plate of fruit with yogurt dip, veggies and hummus, and whole grain crackers is quick and easy but much more nutrient dense than goldfish crackers or bear claw cookies.

If you are on the go after school to an extra-curricular activity or a visit to the park, try taking a thermos with milk and Healthy Height and a reusable snack bag with a piece of fruit, Nature’s Bakery fig bar, FreeYumm granola bar, or homemade baked goods such as these Mini Donuts:

Nutritous Donuts

The Evening Top Up

It is common for parents to wonder if an evening snack is necessary. If it has been more than 90 minutes since you finished supper and/or if your child commonly wakes up hungry in the night, your child may benefit from a small evening snack. The most important point here is that if you are going to offer a snack, you decide what it will be. Then the child can decide if they want it or not. Evening snacks are a great option for filling a nutritional void from the day. For example, if your child did not eat many vegetables that day, offer celery with pumpkin seed butter and raisins for snack. If your child wasn’t interested in the protein sources you offered today, try a smoothie with Healthy Height added in such as this one: Blueberry Smoothie

Blueberry Smoothie

Nourishing Your Child

So as the school year draws closer and you consider all the things your child needs for a successful year, remember to include meal and snack planning on your list of essential tools. Offering adequate bone, muscle, and brain building nutrition will serve them well now and for years to come as they learn and build healthy habits for life!

Kids Walking To School
Noelle Martin

MScFN RD. Co-founder of Nourished Beginnings and expert behind @motherhoodandmeals

Noelle Martin is a Registered Dietitian with a Master of Science in Foods and Nutrition. She is also a mom of three young boys. Noelle is founder and president of Registered Dietitian Services and co-founder of Nourished Beginnings. Noelle has a passion for educating and inspiring others in areas related to nutrition and overall health. Noelle specialized in areas of maternal and pediatric nutrition, sports nutrition, and food allergies/intolerances. In addition to her work in counselling and corporate presentations, Noelle thoroughly enjoys teaching courses at Brescia University College and has an active Instagram feed and blog dedicated to educating and inspiring moms to make healthy choices for themselves and their families in addition to sharing moments of motherhood, products, and family-friendly travel destinations.