Brain Food – Ensuring your child’s nutritional well-being during the school day.

By A. Willeen Brese, RD, LN, CLC

As parents, our responsibility is to provide our children with a variety of food choices that are nutritionally sound. As a parent, you’ve no doubt been inundated with well-meaning advice about what, when and how to feed your child.

Everyone, from health experts – “Make sure children get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day”, to family members – “When my children were young, I always fed them wheat germ”, to friends – “I put olives in Sara’s mac and cheese, you might want to try that to get Brandon to eat” and to the occasional well-meaning stranger at the local grocery store – “You really aren’t going to buy that, are you?”, seems to have an opinion on what children should and should not be eating, how often they should or should not be eating it and when they should or should not be eating it. What is a busy parent to do?!

Nutritional information on the internet seems almost limitless and it can be difficult sifting through all that is out there. There are some not-so-reputable sources and some highly reputable sources of nutrition information at your finger tips for quelling your thirst knowledge about your child’s nutritional needs. The very best sources of sound nutritional information and advice for parents, and children, can be found on these three sites:




These informative websites provide parents and opportunity to explore what foods and beverages children need as well as what the appropriate serving size is for different age groups. For example, as your child grows and develops, www.mypyramid.gov has a feature that will help you determine your child’s needs based on her height and weight. There is also a great area on the website – games, worksheets, posters and more! – for children to get involved in learning more about their nutritional needs.

You may be confident that you can plan meals and snacks for your child when he is at home, but who is looking out for his nutritional needs when he is at school? No matter the age of your child, if he attends private or public school, it is always appropriate to ask the school questions about how your child’s nutritional needs are being met throughout the school day. Here is a list of questions to get you started:

▪ What foods and beverages are offered at school on a daily basis?

▪ Does the school offer breakfast and/or lunch?

▪ What is the cost of the meals that are provided?

▪ How much time is allowed for my child to eat her meal?

▪ What snacks are offered in the classroom and/or for the entire school?

▪ Where is the food prepared?

▪ Who determines the food items on the menu?

▪ If my child has allergies or is on a

special diet, how are meals and snacks prepared and handled?

With the answers to the above questions and the knowledge of what our children need each day, parents can help their children make good nutrition choices. The Montana Office of Public Instruction website also provides an excellent guide to understanding school meals. Check it out at http://www.opi.mt.gov/pdf/schoolfood/ReimbursableMeals2.pdf

Some children may have food allergies, or be on special diets. For children with more nutritional need considerations, parents may find it beneficial to work with a Registered Dietitian (RD). Registered Dietitians will work with you and your child in looking at your child’s eating pattern and intake of food as well as determine what nutritional requirements your child may need to have addressed.

By actively involving our children in food discussions such as planning snacks and meals, we also become ‘teachers’ of a life-long skill: planning what nutritious foods we need each day. Combining nutrition education and eating nutritious meals, as well as ensuring your child plays (gets regular physical activity) will lead to a well nourished, fit adult. SFM

A. Willeen Brese, RD, LN, CLC is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Nutritionist and Certified Lactation Counselor with RiverStone Health you can contact her at willee.bre@riverstonehealth.org