Packing Nutritional Armor

Back to School With Lunches that will Make the Grade!

Why are we always hearing about healthy eating for kids via healthy lunches, never skipping breakfast, and eating a rainbow of colors? It’s because nutrition directly impacts a child’s ability to grow optimally, achieve peak learning, maintain a strong immunity, and their risk for many chronic diseases now, and long-term.

Numerous studies confirm that, decreased cognitive performance, is a direct result of school-age children experiencing inadequate nutrition intake, insufficient iron intake, and skipping breakfast. A 1998 study of healthy children, 9 – 11 years old that also skipped breakfast, experienced increased mistakes, lower memory recall, and decreased stimulus discrimination on many different academic tests.

As parents, we have the ability to provide our children with the necessary nutritional armor they need for optimal learning. We can do this by sending them to school after having a yummy balanced breakfast and carrying their healthy lunch that is not only packed full of the nutrients their body needs but also a lunch they do not want to trade away!

Understanding Your Child's Daily Nutrition Needs

A healthy balanced meal or snack should include a variety of foods because it enables your child to consume the recommended daily amounts of:

  • Fiber
  • Water
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Energy (calories)
  • Carbohydrate
  • Protein
  • Healthy fat

In relation to nutrition needs, when you hear or read the terms RDA (recommended dietary allowance) and/or DRI (dietary reference intake), do you really know what these acronyms are referring to? If not, don’t feel alone, because they are often used in discussions and nutrition education materials for the general public but often without explanation.  

The following DRI definition is directly from the National Institutes of Health:

DRI is the general term for a set of reference values used to plan and assess nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values, which vary by age and gender, include:
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.
Adequate Intake (AI): established when evidence is insufficient to develop an RDA and is set at a level assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy.
Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects.


Specific Needs for Each individual

The link below is to the Interactive DRI for health professionals where you are able to calculate the DRI for any individual. Although it says it is for professionals, I feel it is beneficial for the general public to use it to find out what their needs are. It provides you with the option of emailing you a pdf of your recommendations. The pdf is very comprehensive and a nice tool to use for nutrition planning and tracking. Please keep in mind to click on the “What’s This” area next to the activity level to see the definitions of each level, which will ensure that you choose correctly. This is important because this calculator bases all of the recommendations on the current activity level and any of the other information you provide it with. 

How to  know Whether or Not Your Child's Daily Nutrition Needs are Being Met

When viewing the nutrition information on the recipe links at the end of this blog or when you are reading the nutrition labels on foods you purchase, you will find percentage information on the labels or recipes.  The percentages are based on the Percent Daily Value (%DV) (definition directly below) of a 2,000 calorie diet or whatever specific calorie diet amount is listed on the bottom of the label. This will provide you with an idea of what each food or recipe provides in relation to the daily needs listed. If you do not see a calorie amount listed, it's usually based on a 2,000 calorie diet. 

The following %DV definition is from the National Institutes of Health:

One value for each nutrient, known as the Daily Value (DV), is selected for the labels of dietary supplements and foods. A DV is often, but not always, similar to one's RDA or AI for that nutrient. DVs were developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help consumers determine the level of various nutrients in a standard serving of food in relation to their approximate requirement for it. The label actually provides the %DV so that you can see how much (what percentage) a serving of the product contributes to reaching the DV.


Planning nutrition packed Lunches

When it comes to planning lunches and/or snacks for your children, it is best to open up your thinking to include many different types of foods because it makes it much easier to get adequate amounts of everything a healthy body needs.

When looking at the nutrition information on the recipes below or when you are reading the nutrition labels on foods you purchase, as discussed earlier, the percentage information you see in is based on the Percent Daily Value (%DV). When adding all of the amounts up, this information allows you to estimate the amounts of calories, protein, fiber, vitamins, etc., that your child is receiving each day. You can then use the Interactive DRI recommendations you received from the Interactive DRI link to see how their actual intake compares to recommended daily needs. 

Below, please find a list of links, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), to many recipes for healthy lunch and snack food ideas. Have fun and involve the kids with picking, shopping, and preparing some of the recipes because studies show that, when kids are involved with all aspects of meal planning and preparation, they are usually more open to trying and consuming the new food/item. 

If you have any comments or suggestions to share, please provide them in the comments section below. Thank you.  

Time for Action! Recipe Links to Nutritional Armor Success! 

Great source of fiber and healthy fat: Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes Recipe

Fun way to get some protein and fiber: Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough with Fruit

Great way to pack protein!  Healthy Grilled Chicken Salad

Packing potassium and phosphorus! No-Bake Chocolate Cherry Oat Bars Recipe

Perfect sandwich substitute.  Pesto Chicken Salad Pitas Recipe

Way to go whole grains! Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Chewy Bars Recipe

Popeye would love this! Creamy Parmesan Spinach Squares Recipe

Kids would never guess that chickpeas could taste this good! Pizza Hummus Recipe

Whole grain replacement for unhealthy chips. Chili Popcorn Recipe

The eyes will love all the vitamin A in these bars. Chocolatey Pumpkin Bars Recipe

Great source of protein, vitamins A and C, and iron. Carrot Cake Muffins Recipe

Give them what that want in a much healthier version. Apple Pie Fruit Leather Recipe

Much better than the real sugary treat.  Juicy Mango Wigglers Recipe