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Healthy bodies, healthy minds

Eating nutritious food and doing regular exercise helps students achieve their best

We all know the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Keeping active and eating well helps prevent disease and increases the likelihood of living longer, happier lives. For children and teenagers, healthy eating and regular physical activity are also essential for giving students the best possible chance to succeed in school, academically, in sport and in all other areas.

Sometimes, though, the everyday challenges of life can inhibit school children from getting the nutrients and exercise they need. Busy lifestyles, modern technology and an oversupply of junkfoods that appeal to kids and teenagers can all contribute to making poor eating and lifestyle choices that negatively affect their health, fitness and ability to learn.

In Australia, such lifestyle factors are to blame for an increased rate of overweight and obesity among children. Results published in the 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found that 17 per cent of boys and girls aged between two and 16 years were overweight, while 6 per cent were obese: numbers that have almost tripled since the 1980s. The study also found that while 72 per cent were classified as having a normal weight, many children were still not getting the nutrients and exercise they needed to perform at their best.

The importance of breakfast
In many cultures, breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day and there is considerable science to support the belief that eating a meal in the morning has numerous health benefits. According to the Dietician’s Association of Australia (DAA), eating breakfast before school:

- Improves alertness, concentration, mental performance and memory
- Decreases the urge to snack later in the day, especially on foods high in saturated fat and sugar
- Helps prevent weight gain and obesity
- Helps maintain a normal weight
- Improves physical energy during the day, increasing the likelihood of exercise

And yet, for all these advantages, a study by the DAA found that one in four children in Australia skips breakfast altogether. Other findings revealed that missing breakfast is more common among girls than boys, and high school students are more likely to forgo breakfast than younger children.

A healthy breakfast
A healthy breakfast is one that provides a variety of foods low in saturated fat and high in carbohydrates, containing fibre and providing vitamins and minerals. Different cultures eat different foods for breakfast, but they are usually based on cereals and grains. Your family’s healthy breakfast might include Western foods such as cereal, milk and wholegrain toast with a spread that’s low in fat and sugar; or it might include savoury rice or pasta-based dishes, varieties of pancakes, omelettes or fruit salad and yoghurt.

It’s up to parents to make sure their child eats breakfast before going to school. Even so, there are many reasons why breakfast might be overlooked in some households. Your child might not be hungry in the morning or they might find traditional breakfast foods unappetising. Whatever the reason, there are ways in which parents and families can prevent their children from going to school hungry.

If time is short or other factors prevent your children from eating breakfast, some school canteens may open early, before school starts, for children to buy breakfast foods as a last resort. If your child’s appetite is low, pack a few pieces of fruit or a sandwich for them to snack on once they get to school. Bored with breakfast food? Find out what it is they would love to eat in the mornings. Do you need to make breakfast food more “fun”?

The main reason many children skip breakfast is that they don’t have enough time in the morning. If this is the case, make sure you follow our tips for making breakfast time a priority.

Make time for morning munchies

Here are some tips to help your family make time for breakfast.

- Early bird: Get out of bed 15 minutes earlier.
- Turn off the TV: Don’t let the family get hooked on a morning TV show. Listen to the radio and read the newspaper instead.
- Packed pantry: Always keep the cupboard stocked with your children’s favourite healthy breakfast choices.
- Quick and easy: Choose faster options such as low-sugar cereal instead of a cooked breakfast.
- Get set: Set the table for breakfast the night before.
- Fast food: Be wary of on-the-go breakfast options for children. Often these don’t contain the recommended amounts of nutrients. Eating breakfast on the run also promotes unhealthy habits for the future, as children won’t learn that making time for breakfast is a priority.
- Set an example: If you want your children to wake up earlier and eat a wholesome breakfast, make sure you do, too!
- Save time online: If grocery shopping is an issue, try online shopping options where goods can be delivered straight to your door.

To read the full article, pick up a copy of Choosing a School for Your Child New South Wales at your nearest Sydney newsagent.

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