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TMH Living Well: Eat well for school success!

The Memorial Hospital

We all know learning demands the ability to concentrate and focus. What we might not consider is that when we are hungry or when we are eating poorly we can’t concentrate or focus very well. It’s true for adults, and it’s especially true for kids.

“When we are not eating well, we don’t have the energy to learn. Our brains use a lot of energy and when we are learning they’re working overtime,” said Dr. Kristie Yarmer, pediatrician with The Memorial Hospital.

For school success, the key is sending your kids off with a solid breakfast under their belts and a healthy lunch. With each, it’s easy to fall into a rut that you repeat day after day, or grab what’s quick and easy, but not necessarily dense with nutrients. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box — or in this case, the sandwich bag.

Eat a good breakfast, with proteinEat a good breakfast, with protein

Eat a good breakfast, with protein

Of course you’ve heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day — but do you know why?

“Skipping breakfast can make kids feel tired, restless or irritable, which can affect learning. Eating breakfast also helps kids maintain a healthy weight since breakfast gets the metabolism going and signals the body to start burning calories,” Yarmer said.

She recommends protein for breakfast because it lasts longer and can hold kids over until lunchtime. Good choices for morning protein are eggs, a high protein yogurt, a slice of sandwich meat or a low-fat breakfast meat. Don’t hesitate to serve last night’s leftovers for breakfast, either. Yarmer recommends working in some whole grains and fruit at breakfast as well.

Pack whole foods for lunchPack whole foods for lunch

Pack whole foods for lunch

“It’s important that our calories come from the right kinds of foods. Whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, nuts and seeds, along with lean protein, provide the best nutrients for performance,” Yarmer said.

One trick when picking items for healthy lunches is to consider how far removed something is from its natural source, and how many extra ingredients — and ingredients you can’t pronounce — are included.

“We often lose nutrition when we look for something quick and easy. For example, fruit juice is easy to pack in a lunch, but it doesn’t have the nutrition that eating a piece of fruit has, even if it’s 100 percent fruit juice,” Yarmer added.

The ideal lunch includes an item with protein — like a nut butter or meat sandwich, hard-boiled egg, piece of chicken, or leftovers that contain meat, beans or tofu. It will also have a piece of fruit and cut up veggies, maybe with hummus or another healthy dip. For a drink, consider water, lightly flavored water or milk.

Limit sugarsLimit sugars

Limit sugars

Yarmer particularly likes to notice sugar content when selecting items at the grocery store for her two kids. For example, the typical juice box made for lunch boxes has about 22 grams of sugar. While sugar does provide energy, your young child in preschool or early elementary only needs about 4 teaspoons, or 16 grams a day. That’s not a lot, and many kids commonly get much more than that.

Besides the obvious sodas, candy, desserts and baked goods, sugar can be found in unexpected places like yogurt, condiments, pasta sauce, salad dressings, protein shakes and energy bars. Studies show that sugar negatively impacts behavior and weakens immune systems.

“On testing day, be extra vigilant about providing a healthy breakfast and lunch. But also send your kids off with the message that they don’t have to get the highest score, they just have to do their best,” Yarmer concluded.

Yarmer is now accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment, call 970-826-2480.


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