Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Smart Eating for a Successful School Year

Connie Liakos, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
August 15, 2012 02:04PM

Source: NW Kids Magazine, August 2012, located online at

“Eating habits — just like study habits — need to be practiced year round,” says Jay Rosenbloom, MD, PhD, a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates of the Northwest. “Preparing for back to school is a good time to review your child’s eating habits,” he adds. For best results, keep it positive and explain to your child how healthy habits can lead to success, whether in the classroom, on the playing field, or in the music room.


For optimal school performance, breakfast is a “must-have”. Whether your child eats at home, at school, or munches on a baggie of berries and peanut butter/whole grain toast at the bus stop, fueling up is a necessity to recharge brain cells to full capacity. While researchers can explain the scientific importance of breaking the fast, teachers can tell you firsthand about the impact breakfast-skipping makes on late-morning behavior and school performance. Kids need a balance of nutrients, so include sources of complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, a protein source (dairy and fortified soy beverages count too), and nutrient-boosting fruits or vegetables as part of the breakfast plan.


The news about school lunch is mostly good, especially for students in Portland Public Schools. New USDA child nutrition regulations as well as awareness from initiatives such as and others has resulted in more fresh, healthy choices at school. Long a national leader in school nutrition, Portland school meals include whole grains, unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables, and nonfat and 1% milk. Students serve themselves from a fruit and veggie bar that has two types of vegetables and two types of fruit and fresh salad greens. Over 30% of the food served by Portland Public Schools is from a local source.


Afternoons are perhaps the hungriest time of day for school kids. Children often head off the bus and straight into the kitchen. Take advantage of this hunger surge by offering plenty of healthy snack choices. Keep foods such as fresh fruit, cut-up veggies, string cheese, hummus, bean dips, nut butters, and whole grain breads and crackers within easy reach. Add fresh citrus slices to a pitcher of water to encourage kids to drink water over sweetened beverages. See the table (below, beside, etc.) for ideas on stocking your kitchen for healthy snacking.


Family meals are a must-have for healthy, well-adjusted kids. According to Dr. Rosenbloom, “We know that families that make the time to sit down and eat together at home tend to eat healthier and the children tend to do better in school and get into less trouble.” Plan ahead for those times when family activities leave you scrambling to get dinner on the table. Prepare healthy soups, stews, lasagna and enchiladas in double batches and freeze, or serve sandwiches on whole grain bread with simple side dishes such as fruit, salads and yogurt.

Finally, remember that parents are the ultimate role models for healthy habits. Make nutritious, whole food choices part of your daily routine and your children will become better eaters as well.

Connie Evers is a registered dietitian with Pediatrics Associates of the Northwest. She is also the author of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids, 4th ed. (©2012, 24 Carrot Press)

Stocking Your Kitchen for Healthy Snacking


  • airtight containers filled with cleaned fresh vegetables such as carrots, baby squash, broccoli florets, pea pods, celery, radishes and jicama slices
  • fresh guacamole, salsa, hummus, or bean dips for dipping vegetables
  • airtight containers filled with washed fruit such as grapes, melon balls, berries & kiwi chunks
  • fat-free yogurt (Greek has more protein)
  • reduced fat cheese sticks
  • nonfat or 1% milk (or fortified soy milk)
  • 100% fruit juice (limit to 6-8 ounces total per day for school-aged children)
  •  pitcher of chilled water


  • canned pineapple chunks, mandarin oranges, refried beans, chunk light tuna
  • nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios and peanuts
  • dried fruit such as raisins, and apricot halves
  • whole grain crackers
  • low-sugar breakfast cereals
  • whole grain bread, mini-bagels, pita bread and tortillas (whole grain corn or flour)


  • 100% fruit Juice Pops
  • Frozen grapes


  • bowl of fresh fruit
  • bowl of grape tomatoes

Snack times should be planned as “mini-meals”, emphasizing nutritious foods and beverages from the MyPlate food guide. Encourage your child to include at least two of the five major food groups at every snack.