(ARA) - As the new school year begins, parents have a lot on their minds - supplies to buy, extracurricular activities to plan, and, of course, preparing kids to be successful in the classroom.
According to recent research, healthy lunches are an essential tool in a student's ability to learn effectively. In fact, studies show kids who eat healthy breakfasts and lunches have better cognitive function, improved performance in the classroom and miss fewer classes.
Parents concerned about the quality of the food their kids are consuming have a simple solution: prepare healthy options at home. While a good, balanced breakfast is easier to execute on your home turf, pulling together and sending a bag lunch proves a bit more challenging.
To boost your kids' learning potential at school, keep these tips in mind as you pack their lunches:
- Consult the new food guidelines. The pyramid is out and the plate is in - the USDA reintroduced its nutrition guidelines as MyPlate, which is designed to be easier for both kids and parents to read. Consult it to determine how much of each food group your kids should be eating - for example, it's recommended that half of your "plate" should consist of fruits and vegetables.
- Keep it kid-friendly. Health benefits can be a hard sell with children - they're more interested in whether something looks and tastes appealing. Small portions perfect for little hands have instant appeal, and even more so when filled with a healthy treat. Tree Top's apple sauce and 100 percent juice apple juice boxes, made from 100 percent American apples, are easy to slip into a lunch bag and are a smart way to help your kids get their necessary fruit servings.
- Make it whole. Grains are a necessity in your kids' diets, but it's essential that they're getting the healthiest kind: whole grains. An increasing number of products offer whole grains that appeal to kids. They might be added to kids' favorite cereals or used in pasta, but to most people's palates, the difference is nearly indistinguishable.
- Know what to cut. Too much sodium, sugar and saturated fat can add up to an unhealthy diet for your kids. If you're using pre-packaged food for their lunches, check the label to make sure that you're choosing options that are low in sodium. Also try to avoid foods and snacks that are rich in sugar and fat but without much nutritional value, such as cakes, cookies and candy. Instead, look for naturally sweet and tasty foods and juices that appeal to kids.