Send kids to school with the right nutritional tools

With kids back in school, keep in mind that healthy nutrition and physical activity habits are not only important to childhood growth and development, they’re also critical for academic success.

Research confirms improving kids’ access to nutritious foods helps them learn, so here are four tips to help yours perform well in school:

1. Start each day with breakfast.

If there isn’t time to fix breakfast at home or grab something to go on their way out the door, make sure your kids eat breakfast at school. School meals are designed to fill gaps for important nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fiber, and breakfasts typically cost as little as $1.25. Studies show it’s tough to teach a hungry child and that students who eat breakfast are better able to concentrate, focus, and learn new material. In fact, average grades at the end of the school year increase as the quality of breakfast rises. Breakfast even makes kids less fidgety, and research suggests the effects of breakfast on cognitive function are especially important for poorly nourished children. If your family is food insecure, you may qualify for assistance. Although 94.8 percent of Idaho schools offer breakfast, only 57.3 percent of Idaho students who are eligible to receive free and reduced-price school breakfast currently eat it.

2. Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for great meal-planning guidelines.

The website suggests focusing on variety, amount, and nutrition when planning meals and to make healthy choices from all five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy — to get all the nutrients you need. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables — focusing on whole fruits and varying your veggies — and make half your grains whole grains. Vary your protein routine, too, and choose low-fat and fat-free dairy foods. Help them eat the right amount of calories for their age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov to determine calorie needs and food plans.

3. Reduce added sugar intake.

Per the new federal dietary guidelines, decrease added sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of calories. Remember: Natural sugar in dairy foods and fruit like raisins and apples is not considered added sugar.

4. Give kids at least three servings of dairy daily.

Sure, I am a huge dairy advocate, but I offer this advice because current dietary guidelines recommend three servings a day for those nine years and older and federal health officials report Americans don’t consume enough of it. Dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt taste great, are accessible almost anywhere, boast up to nine essential nutrients, offer a natural source of high-qualitykarianne-fallow protein, and come in a variety of options from lactose-free to low-fat, fat-free, and low-sodium — all at a reasonable cost. In fact, you can get three servings of milk for less than $1 a day, with the average serving totaling about 25 cents.

Please visit IdahoDairy.com for some delicious, nutritious recipes that can help you and your family maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Written by Karianne Fallow, CEO, United Dairymen of Idaho.