With fall and back to school upon us, the topic of what to make for lunches is likely top of every parent's mind. With so much in the media about childhood obesity and diabetes, it's time we all got schooled on what we can and should be doing to reverse this trend and start raising up a healthier generation. What better place to begin that with their lunch boxes?
Parents play a vital role in their child's health not only by what they say, but more importantly what they do. We know that kids are more apt to follow what their parents tell them to do if in fact the parents are doing those very same things. It's fantastic parents get educated and jump on board with fuelling their kids through providing balanced meals rather than just "filling the gap". But what happens when they head off to school, who's going to provide this example for them there?
Teachers and school staff are charged with our littles, and not so littles, for six hours each and every weekday. That is an enormous block of time where, within that school day, kids are given little or no guidance on what or how they should be eating and why it's important to keep their blood sugar stabilized. And if you're thinking any teaching in this area would either fall on deaf ears or be too complicated for the littles to take in, I've found exactly the opposite.
Having worked in a private school as an Education Assistant for over ten years, as well as having volunteered in the public school system as my kids when through, I can tell you first hand they are all little sponges. Kids, being generally self centred, just love to soak up information about all things that affect themselves directly. Unfortunately, regardless of the age group, there is very little accurate information given for our little sponges to soak up and apply. We've got to do better, we've got to do more, and we've go to do it together.
What I do know is that when parents and teachers are on the same page, the book gets read. Or in this case, I guess you could say the healthy lunches get made. Teachers, here are a simple suggestions that will go a long way in setting kids on the path to balanced nutrition. (Please note that most of these suggestions are geared towards the elementary school aged children as that is where there is still the most control, the largest parent volunteer base and therefore the most likely group to initiate change and be able to carry it through.)
Start the day by finding out who has or hasn't had breakfast and what they ate or drank before coming to school. For the kids who missed breakfast, let them get something from their lunch to eat while you do attendance or lay out the day's agenda. Allowing the child to eat will make a world of difference for you both. Little Johnny or Susie will be able to focus and concentrate better on what you are teaching, and you won't have to deal with behaviours such as fidgeting, leaving their seat, talking out of turn, bugging the student next to him/her, etc., that go along with the low blood sugar brought on by hunger.
Bring a water bottle for yourself and refill it often throughout the day. Seeing the teacher drink more water than coffee will encourage students to bring a water bottle as well. Staying hydrated keeps energy levels up and helps with the "afternoon-low" many people (kids and adults) experience mid afternoon. As the brain is made up primarily of water and fat, drinking enough water helps the brain function, keeping it alert, sharp and synapses firing so you don't want to run yourself or your students a quart low.
Encourage your students to have a protein (cheese string, hard boiled egg, greek yogurt, turkey pepperoni or jerky) with each meal or snack and make it a must before indulging in any sugary treats. Ideally, the protein should be eaten first. This minimizes the spike in blood sugar that occurs when sugary or packaged foods are eaten alone or on an empty stomach. Preventing the spike in blood sugar also prevents that burst of unfocused "hyper" energy and fidgity-ness that follows. Teachers, you'll thank me for this when Halloween rolls around.
Set standards, and stick to them, as to what food your school will allow to be served on special occasions, in cafeterias and on "hot lunch" days. In my opinion, the current guidelines permit far too many unhealthy, unbalanced items. This sends the message to our children and teens that parents and teachers approve these types of foods, even if it is something they would never actually bring into their own home.
School is the place where we send our children to be educated in such a way that they will have the tools they need to become productive, contributing members of society, capable of achieving the successes each one envisioned for himself/herself. Neglecting proper teaching of the importance of good, balanced nutrition only serves to sabotage those goals as they fail to fully grow and develop physically and mentally, reaching adulthood pre-disposed to one or more "lifestyle diseases." The level of health they will enjoy as adults is determined by the quality of food they consume as children. If today's children, tomorrow's adults, end up spending most of their adult lives battling illness and trying to regain their health, how can we expect them to fully make their mark on the world the way they were created to? It's simple, they can't.
Kelowna Nutritionist STOP dieting, start living! Lose the Bloat, Melt your Belly, Love Your Life!! Last thing, last time, believe it! Sign up to receive my bi-weekly FIT Nutrition blog, and get started today.