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Published August 15, 2008, 12:00 AM

Start school year with A+ nutrition

The days of sleeping in and no homework are winding down for kids everywhere.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson , NDSU Extension Service

The days of sleeping in and no homework are winding down for kids everywhere.

School begins soon. Now is the time for parents and kids to think about breakfast and school snacks.

Here are some questions and answers about breakfast and snacks that apply to children and adults:

Q: We never have time for breakfast. Is it really that important?

A: Eating breakfast helps children and adults concentrate better. Children perform better in school when they eat breakfast. Try some timesaving strategies. Set the table the night before. Put the cereal box on the table. If you want a heartier breakfast, such as pancakes, measure the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the wet ingredients in the morning.

Many schools have breakfast programs that provide a balanced meal to fuel children for learning. Check if your local school does.

Q: I’m trying to lose some weight. Will skipping breakfast help?

A: Skipping breakfast may lead to overeating later in the day. Breakfast skippers usually more than make up for the 300 or so calories skipped in the morning. Enjoy foods from two or three food groups, such as fruit, milk and grain, for breakfast. A protein-rich food, such as an egg, helps combat hunger pangs later in the morning.

Q: My kids are always snacking. Isn’t this bad for them?

A: Growing children need snacks. Well-chosen snacks add variety to the diet and keep children and adults fueled for school or work. Children’s stomachs are smaller, so they need to eat more frequently. Eating smaller, more frequent meals is a good idea for adults, too.

Q: There are so many snack foods to choose from. How do I choose healthy snacks that fit my budget?

A: Fruits and vegetables always are healthy choices. For boxed snacks, be a comparison shopper and get the most nutritional value for your money.

Read Nutrition Facts labels. Use “Percent Daily Value” when you compare foods. A food with 5 percent or less of the daily value is considered “low” in that nutrient. A food product with 20 percent or more of the daily value is considered “high” in that nutrient. Ask yourself these questions:

- What is the serving size? How many calories does a serving provide?

- How much saturated fat and trans fat do the snacks contain? These types of fat aren’t heart-healthy.

- Does the snack contain fiber?

- How do the snacks compare in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and iron?

Sometimes buying a larger box saves money, but people tend to eat more if they have the whole box in front of them. Pack individual portions in plastic bags to help with portion control.

Q: My grandchildren ask me for chips and soda pop when they visit me after school. That’s not very healthy. Do you have any ideas?

A: If they would like something crunchy, try crisp apples with low-fat fruit dip or carrot sticks with low-fat ranch dip. Consider making fruit smoothies as a nutritious alternative to soda pop.

Combine fruit juice, yogurt and fresh, canned or frozen fruit in a blender (or with a mixer) and pour in cups. Have them help prepare the snacks, and they’re more likely to eat them, too.

Here’s an easy burrito recipe for a meal any time of the day:

Breakfast Burrito

1 15-ounce can vegetarian refried beans

4 tortillas, corn or wheat

2 tablespoons chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup salsa

Low-fat shredded cheese (optional)

Mix beans with onion and tomatoes. Microwave the tortillas for 15 seconds.

Divide bean mixture among the tortillas. Fold each tortilla to enclose filling.

Place on microwave-safe dish and spoon salsa over each burrito. Microwave on high for 15 seconds. If desired, sprinkle with cheese.

Makes four servings. Without cheese, each serving has 170 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of fiber and 15 percent of the daily value for vitamin C.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences

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