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Posted: Monday, August 17, 2015

The Basics of Healthy School Breakfasts and Lunches

It’s tough to believe, but summer is officially over for thousands of school children in East Tennessee. How you feel about that will likely depend upon your age. For instance, an 11-year-old might lament the loss of sleeping in, playing outside all day and going on vacation. A parent, on the other hand, might be grateful for the end of summer break for reasons only a parent can understand. Those same parents who welcome the arrival of the new school year, however, also will be the ones in charge of buying copious amounts of school supplies and taking care of those quick breakfasts and packed lunches each day. And while there are ways to pack those meals quickly, doing so with healthy eating in mind takes a little work, time and preparation.

Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce says breakfasts can be tricky because of the morning rush families experience when school starts. “Once school is back in session, mornings get busier for both parents and children. The sheer lack of time can derail your healthy breakfast routine,” Pierce said. “Still, kids who eat a healthy breakfast have been shown to have improved cognitive skills, better behavior and higher test scores, so the importance of a healthy breakfast can’t be understated. If the biggest factor working against eating a healthy breakfast – whether you’re a parent or a kid – is time, there are some quick approaches you can try that still are healthy. The key is planning ahead,” she said.

“Oatmeal, for instance, is a quick and healthy meal you actually can prepare ahead of time,” Pierce said. “I call them ‘overnight oats,’ and you can make them by combining old-fashioned oats with a bit of milk, some Greek yogurt and a small amount of chia seeds. All you have to do is mix those together, add some honey or maple syrup, throw in some fruit, and stir. It’s very easy, and it can refrigerate overnight,” she explained. “Another option are frozen breakfast sandwiches, which can be much healthier when you make them yourself, as opposed to buying the pre-packaged ones available. Simply take a English muffin or tortilla, a scrambled egg, and a bit of ham or turkey sausage, then prepare your sandwich and wrap it in saran wrap,” she said. “All you have to do in the morning is reheat them in the microwave a bit and you’re good to go,” she added.

Packing lunches for school also requires some forethought. Blount Memorial registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Whitney Roberts says there are three key elements to packing healthy school lunches. “Just like those on-the-go breakfasts, school lunches require some planning,” Roberts said. “What you’ll want to do is try to shop with a list that helps you plan lunches for an entire school week. Second, remember to keep it simple by planning for a healthy carbohydrate, a lean protein and a fruit or vegetable. This will help you avoid less-healthy options such as chips, sodas, Lunchables and pre-packaged sweets. Third, try to pack the lunches the night before or for the whole week. Using a sectioned food container and ice packs can make this much easier,” she explained.

“When you’re looking for healthy carbohydrates, look for whole-wheat breads, wheat tortillas or whole-wheat crackers,” Roberts said. “Lean lunch meat, cheese, peanut butter or Greek yogurt can take care of the protein you’re looking for, and you can be creative with the fruits and vegetables. For the drink, stick with water or milk, and you occasionally include a small dessert, preferably a snack bar that contains fewer than 10 grams of sugar and at least three grams of fiber,” she added.

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