With a new school year under way, USA Pediatric Gastroenterologist Dr. Daniel Preud’homme said it is important to take time to ensure your child’s nutrition habits are ready for the year ahead.
“Healthy eating habits are the cornerstone of prevention of obesity and associated complications such as diabetes and heart disease,” said Dr. Preud’homme, who is director of the Pediatric Healthy Life Center and professor of pediatrics at the University of South Alabama. “By encouraging healthy eating habits now, you impact your children’s lifelong relationship with food.”
Dr. Preud’homme said it is very important for children to make good food choices – both at school and at home. “The brain is like any organ; it needs appropriate energy and nutrients,” he said. “Without them, the brain function may not be the best it can be and performance at school may not be as good.”
During the 2014-15 school year, Mobile County Schools are offering free breakfasts and lunches to all students. “Food insecurity exists – families are worried that money will not be there at the end of the week to buy food,” Dr. Preud’homme said. “Therefore, free meals are undoubtedly a step in the right direction.”
Dr. Preud’homme said school lunches, if chosen correctly, can be a healthy option. “School lunches are much better than in the past,” he said. “Portion size is adequate, salt levels are decreased, and there is more diversity in fruits and vegetables.”
It is recommended that you review the school’s menu with your child and discuss how to build a nutritious meal they will enjoy. Make sure the choices include whole grains, lean protein, vegetables or fruits and low-fat or fat-free dairy. “These choices will ensure appropriate nutrients and energy for activity and growth,” Dr. Preud’homme said.
Most importantly, Dr. Preud’homme said modeling the right food choice at home is the best strategy to ensure that the child will make the right choice when the parent is not around. He warns of being too strict at home, however, because it could lead to overeating. “For example, if you remove all starches from a child’s diet at home,” he said, “it may lead them to overdo it at school or outside the direct supervision of the parent.”
If you are concerned about the food available at your child’s school or if your child is a picky eater, Dr. Preud’homme said you can’t go wrong with a packed lunch. “A packed lunch allows for better control over the food, specifically for picky eaters,” he said. “The lunch should be made from home, not bought in the store.” Store-bought packaged lunches are high in calories and fat. In addition, they don’t have enough fiber, have too much salt and are nutrient-poor.
Using the “my plate” example, Dr. Preud’Homme said a healthy lunch is easy to pack. “A good option would be a slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter, an apple, a cheese stick (fat free or low fat) and a bottle of water. A vegetable can be part of the dinner.”
In addition, eating breakfast is another important aspect of a child’s well being when they go back to school, and it may be helpful to try and establish a good morning routine to get your child ready. “After a long night of sleep, children need proper calories for brain and body function until lunch,” Dr. Preud’Homme said. “Without breakfast, they may have gone up to 16 hours or more without any food since dinner the night before. This may cause the child to eat larger amounts at lunch or engage in too much snacking.”
To learn more about healthy eating, visit www.kidseatright.org. To make an appointment with Dr. Preud’Homme, call 434-5038.