By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Food is fuel. And when sending kids off to school, it’s important to make sure their brains and bodies have enough energy to make it through the day.
According to Jessica Kovarik, Peterson Air Force Base Health and Wellness Center dietitian, the key is balance.
Children require different amounts of each food group based on age and gender. As a general guideline, children ages six to 12 should have two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables each day.
Serving size can be a big obstacle to overcome. “A serving is not a whole apple or banana,” Kovoarik said. For the six to 12 age group, a serving size of fruits and vegetables is half a cup.
Once parents understand serving size, they can work toward feeding their families a balanced diet every day.
Many families are rushed in the mornings Kovarik noted, but that’s no excuse to skip breakfast. She suggested preparing foods, even the night before, kids can eat in the car on the way to school like toast with peanut butter, a hardboiled egg and an apple, a pre-made waffle, or even a smoothie.
“Many schools also offer breakfast,” she said. “Get kids there a little early so they can eat.”
Parents also have to decide if their kids will eat school lunch or if they will pack a lunch. “If your kid is going to be eating at school, look over the menu with your child,” Kovarik said. “Is there anything the kid is going to eat? You might feel that they offer healthy foods but if your child doesn’t like anything on (the school menu), it would be better to pack something to eat.”
If parents decide to pack a lunch, Kovarik recommends getting the kids involved in preparing and selecting their favorite foods. “Have them make their turkey sandwich and pick their favorite yogurt,” she said.
Convenience foods, like prepackaged deli meat, cheese and crackers, can be part of a healthy lunch if paired with other healthy foods. “If that’s the quickest and easiest, throw in an apple or a carton of milk to make it healthier,” Kovarik said.
Food safety is another important thing to remember when packing a lunch. “If it’s stuff that should be cold, like yogurt or deli sandwiches, throw an ice pack in,” she said.
Kovarik also recommended freezing grapes and juice boxes to put in the lunch box. “It will keep it colder longer but they’ll thaw out by the time lunch comes around,” she said.
Parents may also want to throw some hand sanitizer into the lunch box as well.
If breakfast was a bust or if lunch didn’t have much variety, Kovarik said parents shouldn’t worry because they can make up the difference at home. Keep fruit in a place where kids can easily grab a snack. Divide up carrots, crackers and other snack items into pre-portioned servings. Store the foods you want them to eat where they can quickly grab them.
To encourage healthy habits, the HAWC places a new kid-friendly recipe at the Peterson Commissary every week. In addition to the recipe, there is a physical activity idea and a log to keep track of fruits, veggies and physical activity.
The goal Kovarik said, is for kids to have five servings of fruits and veggies, and one hour of physical activity a day. If they fill out the log and try to meet those requirements, parents can turn it into the HAWC for the chance to win fun prizes.
For more information about nutritional guidelines, visit www.myplate.gov or contact the HAWC at 556-4292.