Getting Answers: Preparing nutritious meals for back to school

Getting Answers: Preparing nutritious meals for back to school
Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 7:17 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) -Massachusetts has extended universal free meals this school year, whether your student is eating breakfast, lunch, a snack at school or brown bagging it, getting nutritious meals will help them in the classroom and beyond.

Western Mass News is getting answers from a dietician on how to prepare nutritious meals for your children. The cafeteria at Chicopee High School will soon be filled with students and plenty of healthy and free food options, starting with breakfast, commonly called “the most important meal of the day.”

“When I used to teach, the kids would be putting their heads down in fourth period and I’d ask them, ‘Did you eat your breakfast?’ and a lot of people said, ‘No,’” Hill said.

Danielle Hill, content specialist for wellness at Chicopee Public Schools said students can start their school day with cereal, a breakfast sandwich, or something new.

“This year for breakfast we’re going to have fruit smoothies for students so you’re going to get some yogurt, some fresh fruits and vegetables inside it,” Hill said.

Chicopee even offers a second breakfast served in the hallway for students who arrive later, all because that first meal of the day is scientifically-linked to improved mood and increased alertness.

“Always, always keep in mind that food is fuel. we always need to start our day with fuel. if we’re not starting our day with fuel, your body is using alternative energy sources and that sets your body up for stress. so when your child gets to school they can’t focus, they can’t sit, they can’t learn they can’t listen,” said Nicole Maslar, registered and licensed dietician at Pyramid Nutrition Services.

Maslar said a little planning goes a long way when it comes to those busy mornings before school.

“Have some hard-boiled eggs, make them up on Sunday night and have those ready for a couple of mornings. Maybe it’s an english muffin, do like a nice whole-grain english muffin or toast, some nut butter, sliced bananas that’s a well-balanced meal right there on an english muffin,” said Maslar.

Under federal nutrition requirements, school meals must include milk, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and provide key nutrients like calcium and fiber. In addition to hot lunch, Chicopee high schoolers have the option to make their own meals.

“We do a great salad bar here. You can get any type of protein on it, you can get turkey, chicken, egg whatever you need. We do a charcuterie bar, where you can get salami, nuts, fruits, and cheeses in it,” Hill explained.

Maslar said kids’ lunches don’t have to be elaborate. Simple things like whole wheat crackers, deli meat, cheese and yogurt are all good options.

“We can do whole-grain wraps, a quick hummus spread, throw some veggies in that. Make things quick and easy, ready for yourself, so maybe you have baby carrots you have celery that’s already cut and washed, you have grapes that are washed, always have fruits and veggies on hand,” Maslar said.

She suggests packing a high protein/low sugar granola bar for after school. Chicopee is bringing back it’s after-school power snack, which stopped over the pandemic.

“They can get pizzas, calzones, any type of snacks so they can get some energy before they go play sports or go to their clubs,” Hill said.

Hill said busy parents should take advantage of the 100,000 nutritious school meals Chicopee serves every month.

10 minutes a day spent packing lunch adds up to 30 hours a school year, not to mention the monetary savings.

“They don’t have to go across the street and buy a snack or go to Dunkin’, we’re gonna have better nutrition here for our kids,” Hill said.

Maslar said what your child eats really does matter, especially since it can affect their energy and ability to concentrate.

“These kids push themselves. I’ve worked with a lot of students that you know won’t eat lunch or skip breakfast and nothing after school before sports, and they push themselves hard. We need to feed these kids and we have to keep them strong and keep them healthy and keep them at their best,” Maslar said.