Northwestern Medicine

An Apple a Day Helps Kids Go Back to School the Right Way

Northwestern Memorial Hospital August 09, 2012

Northwestern Medicine dietitian offers tips to send students to the classroom with proper nutrition

CHICAGO, IL – Long summer days will soon be replaced with hurried schedules of school, homework and afternoon soccer practice. While a change in routine can be exciting, it’s important for parents to prepare their kids for a healthy school year before the bell rings. Hannah El-Amin, registered dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Integrative Medicine, encourages involving children in food choices and offers suggestions on healthy lunchbox ingredients that both parents and kids will enjoy.

“As kids head back to school and schedules become hectic, it’s important to prioritize healthy eating,” said El-Amin. “There’s no better way to start a school year off right than with proper nutrition.”

El-Amin says sending kids back to school with an idea of what they are eating and why, can be beneficial.

“The more kids know about what they’re eating, the more they will enjoy what they find in their lunchbox,” said El-Amin. “Whether you take your kids grocery shopping with you, or simply show them what to expect the night before a school day, educating them is an integral first step in promoting healthy nutrition throughout the year.”

Research shows that kids who eat breakfast not only behave better in class, but perform at a higher academic level too. Starting the day with a breakfast filled with fiber will help sustain fullness and energy by stabilizing blood sugar levels.

“Breakfast doesn’t have to be boring; create a yogurt parfait with low-fat or Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, or fill muffin tins with egg whites and fresh veggies for a creative way to serve an omelette,” suggested El-Amin.

Lunchtime favorites such as sandwiches, chips and cookies can simply be swapped with healthy alternatives.

“A tuna salad sandwich made with light mayonnaise on whole grain bread is a great lunchtime staple,” said El-Amin. “The tuna provides an excellent source of omega-3 that helps with brain function. Add applesauce with a drizzle of cinnamon flavored flaxseed oil, pretzels or baby carrots and light dip for a healthy side dish.”

El-Amin says that while dessert, a young student’s favorite part of the meal, can include dark chocolate, there are other ways to satisfy their sweet tooth.

“Cut fruit into fun shapes before creating a dessert to add a playful aspect to the end of the meal,” said El-Amin. “I suggest packing a ‘candy’ apple–one apple, sliced, with peanut butter and honey as a dipping sauce.”

In addition to proper food choices, El-Amin notes that it’s equally as important to adequately hydrate throughout the day.

“Sweetened drinks like soda and even juice can actually make you thirstier,” explained El-Amin. “If you opt for juice, dilute it with water or flavored seltzer water. Staying hydrated is important for overall energy as well as conditioning joints for gym class and sports practice.”

According to El-Amin, healthy nutrition shouldn’t stop when the bus drops the kids off after a busy school day. She suggests having light, nutritious snacks ready for them when they arrive home to complete their homework.

“It’s important to stabilize kids’ blood sugar levels throughout the day and fuel their brains with proper food choices so they can concentrate on their homework after school,” said El-Amin. “Simple afterschool snack ideas include whole grain crackers topped with pizza sauce and shredded cheese, fruit and yogurt dip or vegetable with hummus.”

El-Amin adds that getting back into a school routine should be a fun time for the entire family.

“Going back to school should be an exciting time for children and parents,” said El-Amin. “Following a simple and fun nutrition plan can help get everyone off to a great academic year.”

Learn more about Northwestern Medicine Integrative Medicine nutrition services

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