In recent years, schools and parents alike are getting behind the push to banish junk foods in schools across the UAE to boost energy, increase concentration in the classroom and put a stop to obesity in our schools.
While eating habits start at home, schools across the UAE are forming a united front to provide our children with healthy meals in their school canteens. Evidence-based research that shows that when children have a healthy meal in the morning, their concentration levels increase, they are more alert, perform better in class, and experience healthier relationships with their peers.
Benefits of Nutritional Meals During the School Day
Although forming healthy eating habits at home is essential, eating healthy during the school day is extremely important. Nutritional programmes explain the benefits of reducing daily sugar intake and eating a well-balanced diet comprised of vegetables and fruits, wholegrain foods, high fiber food, and limited amounts of sodium and saturated fats.
As with all other foods, the healthiest foods are those that have undergone as little processing as possible. Children should also eat full fat dairy products, as low fat and skimmed dairy products have been chemically treated and their nutritional value is significantly reduced. Additionally, the extra fat in whole milk enhances body growth and brain development, as well as the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A and D. However, some pediatricians suggest switching to low fat dairy products once children turn 5.
Among the many benefits to eating nutritious meals throughout the day include gaining access to key nutrients, limiting fat intakes, boosting energy and concentration levels, and preventing childhood obesity.
Reduce Fat Intake
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends children get no more than 25 to 35 percent of their calories from fat, with most fat coming from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. What exactly does that mean? Think fish, fruits, vegetables and healthy nuts instead of cookies and other sugary foods and beverages.
This amount is not only more than enough to support healthy growth and development, it’s also more than enough to maintain your child’s energy needs for the duration of the day.
Provides Key Nutrients
It’s essential your child eats a nutritious breakfast before school and lunch during school. These meals provide approximately two-thirds of daily caloric intake, so you need to make them count!
According to Harvard Health, children who eat a healthy breakfast maintain a greater nutrient intake for the entire day. In fact, according to their findings, failing to eat a meal shortly after waking can potentially lead to insulin resistance and other heart risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol problems. Additionally, a healthy morning meal has shown to be helpful in maintaining a healthy body weight, with breakfast eaters typically a third less likely to be overweight or obese.
Boost Energy and Concentrations Levels
When children don’t eat before and during the school day, it’s more difficult for them to focus at school and to maintain the energy needed to successfully complete the day’s tasks. Additionally, a hungry child is more likely to grab an unhealthy snack later in the afternoon for a quick boost of energy. However, empty calories will only work for the short term.
By providing your children with healthy meal options before and during school, your child will receive the energy they need to power through the day. Children who eat meals rich in vegetables, fruits, and protein perform better on literacy tests compared to children with a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt.
Nutritious food choices in schools and at home will help decrease childhood obesity rates. Good nutritional options, such as foods high in fibre, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and full fat dairy products, will fill your child and keep them full longer. Healthy options encourage enduring healthy habits through prevention.
Healthy Breakfast Options
When it comes to making a healthy breakfast, consider these healthy items to provide the energy your child needs to start their day:
Whole grains – whole-wheat bagel, whole-wheat pancake, high-fiber cereal, whole-wheat tortillas, oatmeal, whole-grain toast,granola, etc.
Protein – eggs, lean turkey, tofu, beans, nuts, lox, etc.
Dairy products – milk, yogurt, cheese
Fruit – berries, melons, apples, bananas, blueberries, etc.
Smoothies – leafy green smoothies with carrots and berries
Healthy School Lunch Options
When it comes time to pack your child’s lunch sack, consider these healthy items to provide the energy your child needs to complete their day:
Whole grains – whole-grain wheat sandwiches and wraps, brown rice, quinoa, etc.
Protein – eggs, lean turkey, chicken, tofu, beans, nuts, lox, etc.
Vegetables – leafy green salads, carrots, tomatoes, avocados, celery, etc.
Fruit – berries, melons, apples, bananas, grapes, etc.
Dairy products – cheese, and yogurt
Consider food fuel for your child’s brain. What you and your children eat directly impacts cognitive skills and brain development. If you make it a point to provide your child with a healthy breakfast to start the day, followed by a nutritious lunch, they’ll be well on their way to establishing healthy habits that will last a lifetime.