Importance of adequate nutrition in childhood should not be overlooked.
Parents play a primary role in making sure that their children meet their daily requirements for vitamins, minerals and macronutrients.
If children consume a poor diet, eating processed foods like biscuits, chips, soft drinks and junk food, they may be at risk for nutrient deficiencies. It is a parent’s responsibility to prepare and offer healthy food choices to their child and model good eating behavior to encourage their child to consume more nutritious foods.
Children with nutritional deficiencies are especially vulnerable to changes in metabolism that negatively impact cognitive ability and performance of the brain; a child’s diet directly affects their ability to learn, focus and concentrate.
Parents genuinely desire their children to excel in academics and sports at school. They attempt to support their children by helping them study, enrolling them in after-school tuitions, and providing a healthy nurturing environment at home.
Mothers should give particular attention to their children’s nutrition, especially at school.
Having spoken to several parents and teachers, I find that focus in this area is lacking, as most children are generally receiving nutrient-poor food choices in their lunch boxes. This is why, I feel education in this area may help mothers improve their children’s overall well-being.
What mothers should include in their children’s lunch boxes.
Young children today have very demanding schedules, with back-to-back classes as well as extra-curricular activities. Mid-morning school breaks are positioned between 10 and 11 am which is the perfect time for a nutritious snack to replenish children’s mental and physical energy so they can perform at their best for the rest of the day.
Nutritious school snack examples include: sandwiches with a healthy protein source (chicken, hunter beef or eggs), fruit and milk.
In developed countries such as the USA, UK, China, EU, and Turkey, milk is given to school children in their breaks by the government or through school programs.
Milk is an easy and complete food source that is rich in various nutrients and helps fulfill children’s daily nutritional requirements.
Milk is rich in protein, calcium and vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are essential in helping children maintain strong bones and teeth, and one of the best sources of calcium and vitamin D are dairy products.
In Pakistan, vitamin D deficiency in children is very high. Since this vitamin is an essential nutrient for the maintenance of skeletal muscle and bone health, it is essential to keep levels in check.
Protein also helps children build and maintain lean muscle mass. Studies show that milk proteins help children grow taller.
Regular milk intake may thus translate into better performance in physical activities and sports in school.
Milk contains vitamin A
Essential for a healthy immune system in children, vitamin A ensures children’s immune system remains strong which means fewer sick days and school absences.
Milk is rich in B vitamins necessary for energy production
B vitamins are needed to help cells make energy. In particular, vitamin B12 plays an important role in brain development and brain function. This can translate into improved focus and concentration resulting in improved academic performance.
Various researches conducted amongst school children around the world support these facts.
The National Institution of Nutrition in Vietnam conducted research on the impact of fortified milk consumption in primary school children. They found that those children who consumed fortified milk daily showed more improvements in short term memory, better learning indicators and improved weight and height compared to children who did not drink fortified milk regularly.
Another study by Rahmani et al. (2011) conducted on school children in Iran also found that having one serving of milk daily at school had beneficial effects on children’s mental and physical function, as well as school performance.
Are nutritious school snack options easily available?
Luckily, Pakistani supermarkets are often filled with various options that can be used to design a lunch box that is both nutritious and delicious at the same time. Various nutritious options could include sandwiches with a healthy protein source (chicken, hunter beef or eggs), vegetables, and seasonal fruits.
Amongst drinks, the most nutritious option is to include a pack of milk or if your child prefers, even flavoured milk.
Various reputable brands, like Olper’s, now offer milk in convenient packs, which also come in flavours that children love. Olper’s Flavoured Milk not only contains the nutrition of milk, but also added Calcium, Vitamins A and D, making it a highly nutritious and complete drink.
As a nutritionist, I get asked why I would ever recommend flavoured milk for children. In my opinion, the pros of this choice greatly outweigh the cons. From my previous experience working in child nutrition clinics, I am aware that many children do not like plain milk. The advantage of including flavoured milk in children’s diets is that, despite its added sugar content, flavoured milk has the same nutrient profile as that of plain milk, which makes it one of the best drink options available to children.
A systematic review of over 50 studies in the journal Nutrition Reviews by Flavia Fayet-Moore shows that overall it is essential to suggest the consumption of flavoured milk as a strategy to increase milk consumption in children.
In summary, a serving of milk is one of the best options mothers can add to their child’s lunch box. Research in schools also suggests that regular milk consumption can help students perform better in their academic studies. Rich in nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamins A, B6, B12, and D, daily milk intake helps children build and maintain healthy bones, teeth and lean muscle.
Zoha Matin is a nutrition expert and coach who holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from McGill University. She frequently posts health and nutrition related content on Instagram as @zo.the.nutritionist.
This content is produced in paid partnership with Friesland Campina.