August is back to school month for most of us and as we all gear up for a season of education, it is important to take a moment to think about nutrition, too.
Days and weeks get busy quickly with no shortage of activities for kids and families during the school year. Busier days sometimes make eating choices a little tricky, but healthy eating habits are shown to help kids concentrate in the classroom.
So, how can we encourage healthier eating this time of year? Choices and planning. Giving kids choices helps them feel that they’re getting what they want and encourages them to make healthier choices at school. Milk, yogurt and string cheese are options that are both nutritious and delicious.
Easy Ways to Add Dairy to Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
There are a variety of ways to include dairy in kids’ diets. Milk isn’t going to be the answer for every meal, but there are other dairy options that, when offered, will likely become go-to favorites for kids throughout the school year.
- Yogurt, fresh berries and low-fat granola can be a great option and offers lots of varying combinations to keep it interesting for kids and their ever-changing food interests.
- Egg muffin cups are super convenient for those busy mornings. Make them ahead of time and just reheat them daily. You can also make different variations using different vegetables and top with a little extra melted cheese.
- Wheat toast with cheese and egg is another option that blends protein, fiber and dairy together for a balanced breakfast.
- Smoothies can be a great source of protein for kids who are not big breakfast eaters or very picky.
Whether kids are eating school lunch or bringing a packed lunch, it’s important to encourage them to try different things and incorporate dairy. School lunches have really changed over the years to include fresh grains, salad bars, and low-fat or non-fat milk—so kids really are getting a balanced meal. If they’re bringing lunch from home, one option is to make a variety of items ahead of time and let your kids pick and pack their own lunch. As part of these options, prepping items like cheese and crackers, turkey and cheddar roll-ups, yogurt with fruit, or a bagel and cream cheese can offer variety for them while still incorporating a healthy serving of dairy.
For dinner, planning and prepping healthy meals in advance can save a lot of time on those busy weeknights in between soccer practice and ballet lessons. Focus on recipes that include protein, dairy and vegetables.
Nutrition Benefits of Milk
There are several reasons to include milk, cheese and other dairy options in the lunchbox. Milk contains 9 essential nutrients, 8g of protein, and consists of 85% water, making it nutritious and hydrating.
Regular consumption of dairy products helps build strong, healthy bones and aids kid’s overall growth and development. For example, vitamin A supports healthy eyesight, protein builds and repairs muscle tissue, and carbohydrates supply energy. The benefits don’t stop there, though.
Dairy products have the highest concentration per serving of absorbable calcium. Studies have found that diets high in calcium can help prevent obesity and bone loss, as well as maintain strong teeth.
Incorporating dairy options in kids’ lunches and snacking options can have long term benefits. In addition to providing options, it’s also important to talk about dairy, nutrition and healthy food choices with your kids. Talking to them and providing options helps them to choose milk over sugary drinks at school and in other areas of life as they get older.