18 Mar Brainy Bites
With an eye to nutrition, wise cooks make every bite count for their kids
Story and photos by SYDNE GEORGE For the Tribune
March 17, 2010
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose,” Dr. Seuss reminds readers in “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”
Those brains will function much better if you take a closer look at what’s on your children’s plates. It’s especially important this month as Great Falls public school children take Criterion-Referenced Tests. Students in grades three through six take these tests to assess their reading and math abilities, while fourth-graders are tested in science as well.
Studies have shown that students who eat breakfast do better academically than those who do not.
One example of a better breakfast food is oatmeal, a complex carbohydrate containing fiber and protein. Topped with berries rich in antioxidants, that oatmeal will do even more to boost brain function.
Choline, a nutrient found in eggs and nuts, enhances brain and memory development, too. Scrambled eggs with whole grain toast and fruit on the side are another great option for a test day breakfast, as is an omelet with fresh vegetables.
Complex, whole-grain carbohydrates contain folate as well as other B vitamins that augment memory capability.
Making sure the toast you’re serving is whole grain benefits your test-taking children and provides the fiber they’ll need for their brains and bodies throughout the morning.
Serving hot chocolate on a chilly morning will help keep the brain sharp, too. Food scientists have found that a cup of hot chocolate contains a high concentration of healthy antioxidants.
A lighter lunch
Packing a well-balanced lunch of between 600 and 800 calories is best for optimal academic performance in the afternoon. Avoid highcalorie high-carbohydrate meals, which can leave a student feeling lethargic.
An ideal lighter lunch is a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich on whole grain bread with skim milk. Peanut butter is a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant, and thiamin, which helps the brain use glucose for energy.
Another great light lunch option would be tuna fish mixed with light mayonnaise with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat bread, an apple and skim milk.
Super smart snacks
Depending on when your children’s lunch break is scheduled, teachers might have a regular morning or afternoon classroom snack time. Send a smart snack on test week or coordinate with other parents to team up and send some for the whole class.
Low-fat cheese sticks provide both protein and carbohydrates, the energy source the brain prefers.
More fun than a cheese stick is a snack mix, especially if you include dark chocolate, an antioxidant with mood-boosting qualities, with walnuts, rich in omega-3 fats essential for brain function, and dried cherries, full of vitamin C and reported to improve memory.
For dinner, serve grilled salmon, which offers healthy omega-3 fats, accompanied by tricolor pasta, a complex carbohydrate, and sauteed zucchini or any colorful vegetable.
Or opt for grilled skinless boneless chicken breasts, high in good quality protein as well as selenium, zinc and B vitamins.
Minestrone soup boasts such beneficial brain foods as vegetables, pasta, beans, full of B vitamins, iron, zinc and magnesium, all of which promote healthy brain function.
Studies have linked drinking water to higher test scores in children.
Remember to send your child off with a bottle of water or encourage them to take frequent drinks at the water fountain throughout their school day. Staying well-hydrated prevents fatigue and keeps concentration levels high.
As a general rule, color your child’s plate with fruits and vegetables, add a healthy protein and complete the meal with complex carbohydrates.
Avoid processed foods and snacks, often laden with added sugar and fat.
School district steps up students nutrition training
Helping elementary students learn about healthy choices is an emphasis in the Great Falls Public Schools this year. Staff members are implementing new nutrition guidelines in response to concerns over childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Student Wellness Director Allison Struber publishes a parent newsletter, Making Yours a Healthy Home, that’s distributed bimonthly in Wednesday envelopes and addresses specific ways to adopt the new nutrition guidelines.
The March/April 2010 issue includes news about Great Falls Public Schools-approved food labels that can be found on individually wrapped snack items in local grocery stores.
Healthy snacks are described as “fruits, vegetables, whole grains, combination products, snack foods, nonfat and low-fat dairy products.”
Struber has placed labels on these snack items at Van’s IGA, Wal-Mart, Smith’s and 2-J’s.
She said having the easily identifiable labels simplifies shopping choices and increases awareness of healthy snacks.
Terri Lester, physical education and health enhancement teacher at Meadow Lark Elementary who has
taught in the district since 1991, has seen a lot of changes in the curriculum regarding healthy eating, especially in the last 10 years.
Lester said two videos, “Portion Distortion” and “Color Your Plate,” provided by Action for Healthy Kids, do a great job of teaching healthy choices.
“Portion Distortion” teaches kids to use something as simple as their hands to judge portion sizes.
“As they grow, their hands grow and portion sizes grow, too,” Lester said.
Kids can relate to “Color Your Plate,” a video that highlights the benefits of filling their plates with colorful fruits and vegetables.
“Chances are, if you have lots of color on your plate, you are eating well,” she explained.
The nutritional videos seem to be reaching kids and making a difference. More than 80 percent of the first- through third-grade children surveyed said they would eat more fruits and vegetables after viewing the “Color Your Plate” video, and more than 80 percent said they learned something they did not know before.
Almost 90 percent of the fourth- to sixth-graders who saw “Portion Distortion” reported learning new information on food serving sizes from the video, and 71 percent surveyed said they would change the size of their food portions, according to questionnaires administered by school district Health Enhancement teachers.
Action for Healthy Kids began in 2002 as a subcommittee of the Great Falls Eating Disorder Task Force, which eventually developed into Great Falls Action for Healthy Kids headed by Joan Trost.
Another program teaching elementary children about healthy choices is “Hooked on Health,” in which library and health enhancement staff create a block of time and offer a variety of demonstrations and learning activities.
Stations run by community volunteers provide hands-on experiences with activities such as dance, yoga and martial arts, exposing children to physical activities they might not have tried before.
Lynn Ryerson, kindergarten teacher at Sunnyside Elementary, works hard to instill healthy habits in her students. She recently was awarded a Healthy Heroes award by the school district for her efforts in embracing the district’s wellness objectives, specifically for the yoga she does with her students.
Ryerson said her kindergartners had lunch at 11 and then were having nothing to eat for the rest of the school day, which ends at 2:45. She noticed their behavior was off track and decided to make some changes.
Now on Thursdays, Ryerson hosts a cooking day centered around healthy foods. She’s exposing the kids to a new fruit or vegetable in the morning thanks to a grant given to her through Jennifer Spellman, school food services director.
For Valentine’s Day, Ryerson said they skipped the candy and cupcakes and made strawberry smoothies instead, and the kids loved them.
“We’re really trying to train parents and kids to find alternatives to all the sweets,” Ryerson said. “Parents have really embraced it.”
For Presidents Day, they made cherry cobbler with frozen cherries, substituting honey as a sweetener. As they studied teeth, they made snacks with apple slices, peanut butter and mini marshmallows representing teeth and gums.
Menu ideas for test week
Here are some brain food ideas from testing week.
Brainy Breakfast Burrito — Tuck scrambled eggs in a whole wheat tortilla, top with one slice lean Canadian bacon, grated cheese and roll into a breakfast burrito. Serve with a side of blueberries.
Super Smart Snack Mix
— Combine equal amounts of walnuts, bittersweet chocolate chips and dried cherries in a bowl. Stir to combine. Divide into ¼ cup snack size portions.
Grilled Salmon— Preheat barbecue to 350 degrees (medium heat). Lay two sheets of aluminum foil on work surface and fold edges inward to make a tray. Lay salmon portions on top of the foil tray.
Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top of salmon portions, top each with a 1 teaspoon pat of butter and sprinkle with dillweed. Place foil tray with salmon on preheated barbecue, close barbecue lid and cook for 6-8 minutes until fish is opaque and cooked through. Serve with lemon wedges. Accompany salmon with sauteed fresh vegetables and pasta.
Great Falls Public Schools Student Wellness newsletter, Making Yours a Healthy Home, www.gfps. k12.mt.us/DistrictInformation/ Wellness/StudentWellness. html
Eat Right Montana: A coalition promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles, http://eatrightmontana.org
The book, “Brain Foods for Kids: Over 100 recipes to boost your child’s intelligence,” by Nicola Graimes.
— Sydne George