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The start of a new school year is the perfect time to get back on track with good eating habits, which are vital for growing children to achieve peak academic performance.

1. Start with a healthy breakfast.

Research shows that children who don’t eat a good breakfast are more tired in school and have shorter attention spans. One study showed that children who did not eat breakfast had generally lower test scores than youngsters who ate a well-balanced morning meal. And studies show that children who don’t eat a good breakfast tend to load up on more junk food during the day. In fact, teens who skipped breakfast to lose weight actually snacked more and ate more at lunch and dinner.

But all breakfasts aren’t the same. The healthiest breakfast contains protein and high-fiber carbohydrates, like oatmeal with low-fat or skim milk and low-fat yogurt with fruit. If mornings are crazy, save time by cutting up fruit the night before so it’s ready for breakfast. Smoothies made of frozen (non-sugared) fruit and low-fat yogurt is another fun option. Healthy breakfasts can also include nontraditional morning foods. What about sliced turkey and string cheese or a morning pizza made from a whole wheat English muffin, low-fat mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce? And if all else fails, as you’re dashing out the door, put low-fat cheese between two pieces of whole wheat bread. Call it high-fiber and protein on the run.

2. Focus on a balanced lunch.

If you are contemplating paying for a meal plan through your child’s school, take a look at the menu first. Be sure it includes whole grains, fruits, veggies and low-fat dairy. Studies show school-age children are especially susceptible to food-related advertising and that most of that marketing is for foods like sugary cereals, candy and soda.  So consider ways to get your kids involved in healthy eating. If you give your child a choice between an apple or a cookie, he or she will no doubt say the cookie. But what about a choice between an apple and strawberries or grapes? What about allowing your child to pick out a new fruit or vegetable at the store each week to try? For convenience, consider buying pre-cut fruits (like pineapple or melon) or canned fruit in 100 percent fruit juice. Avoid fruits in syrup. Dried fruits–raisins, bananas, cranberries–are another quick and easy option. Try salads or main dishes that combine protein with fruit–like chicken with mangoes.

3. Finally, enjoy a family dinner.

Studies indicate that children of families who eat dinner together on a regular basis are less likely to become overweight and they tend to consume more of their necessary vitamins and minerals through healthy foods. Even if dinner needs to come from the freezer once in a while, consider throwing in a quick salad. For some ideas of healthy “brain foods,” check out this past health tip…

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