With fall and back to school rapidly approaching, focusing on the kids for another article just seemed to make sense.  Last column touched on just the tip of the massive iceberg that is childhood obesity.  Just like the iceberg, there is much more to childhood obesity that we don't see than we do see and it needs to be addressed.

As noted in the last article, 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.  So it's great to get the parents educated and on board with fuelling their kids through providing balanced meals and not just filling the gap but once they head off to school, who's going to provide this example for them there?   

Teachers and school staff are charged with our little ones, and not so little ones, for six hours per day.  That is an enormous block of time where, within that school day, kids are given little or no guidance not only on what they should be eating, but when to eat and how to pair/group food items together to keep their blood sugar stabilized. Having worked in a private school as an Education Assistant working with special needs for the past ten years as well as having volunteered for various food-related occasions as my own three children moved through the public school system, I've seen first hand what is being done at all age levels and it's not enough.  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 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.)

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.  Water also 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.
  3. Encourage your students to have a protein (cheese string, hard boiled egg, greek yogurt, turkey pepperoni or jerky)with each meal or snack and especially when 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.
  4. 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 and 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?  They can't.

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