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Back to school nutrition basics

As you prepare to send your children back to school, ask yourself, ”What’s on the menu to fuel their active minds and bodies?” Eating a nutritious breakfast, lunch and snacks each day helps to keep your child healthy and ready to learn. Keep these back-to-school nutrition basics in mind to help your kids do their best this year.

1. Break the fast

By the time children wake up to go to school, most have gone for 8 to 12 hours without anything to eat. No wonder breakfast is often referred to as the most important meal of the day. Consider the benefits of breaking the overnight fast with a balanced breakfast:

Breakfast gives kids more of the nutrients they need

A nutritious breakfast provides children with energy and essential nutrients for healthy growth and development. Research shows that children who skip breakfast may not make up for the nutrients they miss out on at that meal.

People who eat breakfast have healthier body weights

Skipping breakfast is not a smart weight control strategy. In fact, studies have shown that children and adults who do eat breakfast regularly have healthier weights than those who skip breakfast.

Skipping breakfast may affect success in school

Studies suggest that eating breakfast is associated with improved memory, better test grades, greater school attendance and better behaviour. Children who don’t eat breakfast may feel tired and have trouble concentrating.

Getting ready in the morning is a busy time, however you can still make enough time for breakfast. Try these quick and easy tips to help make a balanced breakfast a habit in your home. And if you need some new breakfast ideas, click here.

2. Lunch wise

What parent hasn’t had a lunch box returned only to find their child barely touched their lunch. It’s a common complaint. So what’s a parent to do? Getting your kids involved in planning their own lunch is one of the best ways to ensure they’ll actually eat it. Even young children can choose from healthy options.

Kids who help plan and prepare their lunch are more likely to eat it

Lunch is a perfect opportunity to help your child develop healthy meal planning skills for life. Guide your child in choosing from a variety of healthy lunch options based on Canada’s Food Guide. Try to pack a lunch that includes at least three of the four food groups.

See how to handle children’s most common pet peeves with these Simple Lunch Solutions.

Make sure you consider their favourite foods

Ask your child to make a list of their favourite foods from nutritious choices in each of the four food groups. Use it to create a shopping list to stock your kitchen cupboards and fridge.  For lunch and snack ideas see the chart in Packing Healthy School Lunches and Snacks FAQs. If your child’s school follows a balanced school day schedule, see here for some more ideas.

Try these recipes:

Yummy Quinoa Lunch

Rock’n Ranch Panini

3. Snack smart

Children need plenty of nutritious snacks to keep them going between meals. However, children often choose less nutritious snack foods that are higher in calories, fat or sugar. Try to plan snacks that include at least two of the food groups from Canada’s Food Guide.

Children have small stomachs and need refuelling

Because children have smaller stomachs than adults, they usually can’t eat as much as adults at one time. Nutritious snacks can help keep them satisfied between meals and also provide energy and important nutrients.

Plan snacks around your child’s school day

Find out when your child’s school has scheduled break and snack times, and don’t forget about snacks for after-school activities.

Try these recipes:

Carrot and Apple Salad

Soft Oatmeal Raisin Delights

You may also be interested in:

Packing Healthy School Lunches and Snacks FAQs

Food for a Balanced School Day

It’s back to school time! 10 tips to make this school year healthier

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Do you have a picky eater at home? Need more snack or lunch ideas? EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitians can help answer your questions. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email

Last Update – July 8, 2016

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.