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Health Tips for Parents

2007 Issues

What makes a good breakfast and lunch?


As a new school year gets underway and families get back into their daily routines, parents should pay particular attention to a child's eating habits at breakfast and lunch. Healthy eating affects a child's overall well-being as wellas school performance. Studies show that children from elementary to high school who eat a nutritious breakfast perform better in reading, math and on standardized tests. "Instilling good breakfast habits in the early years will hopefully set the stage for habits that will continue through teenage years and beyond," says Patty Beckwith, a registered dietician at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA.

Breakfast - Fuel for the Day

Breakfast provides fuel for a child's body and brain to start the day. According to Beckwith, a balanced breakfast that includes starch (such as whole grain bread or cereals), protein and a fruit or vegetable enables the child's body to convert food to energy throughout the day. Furthermore, foods that are rich in protein and whole grains and low in artificial sugars may benefit a child's attention span and concentration in school. A homemade, healthy breakfast served at the kitchen table may not be realistic for many children or families given today's hectic lifestyles. "A balanced breakfast may seem daunting, but it's not hard; toast with peanut butter and some orange juice, or crackers with string cheese and half a banana do the trick," she explains.

Don't focus on how much is eaten during the meal, but rather that it is a balanced selection. Children will generally eat what is available at home so it's best not to buy sugar cereals, toaster pastries or cereal bars, all of which are loaded with sugar. For those who insist that they are not hungry early in the morning, Beckwith suggests that parents alter their child's routines a bit - perhaps making bedtime and/or wake up time earlier - to allow him or her enough time to work up an appetite in the morning.

School Lunches

School Lunches According to Beckwith, many schools are providing healthier options in the school cafeteria. Yet, children may not, on their own, make wise choices among the selections offered. Parents can review with their child the monthly menus that most schools provide and select in advance main and side dishes. Making a lunch at home to bring to school allows some control over food options. Try to follow the recommendations set forth in the USDA Food Pyramid (http://www.mypyramid.gov).

Healthy sack lunch ingredients may include:

  • a ham and cheese sandwich or turkey roll-up on flat bread with grapes
  • celery with peanut butter and cherries
  • crackers, string cheese, dried apple rings and cashews. (Before packing nuts or nut-derived foods, check the school's policy about sending these food items since some children are allergic to them.)
  • a leftover slice of pizza, carrot sticks and a banana

Individually packaged snacks may be convenient, but many are junk food in disguise, Beckwith notes. A sweet treat does not have to be included in a lunch. She says, "Start sending string cheese as a treat; you will be setting the stage for healthy eating."

Health Tips September 2007 for Parents Produced by UCLA Pediatric Neighborhood Offices This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health System pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children's Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. See list of physicians by location for more information or call 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).

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