UF expert: Back to school may mean healthier meals

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As they return to school, some students will eat healthier meals and snacks than they did during the summer, a University of Florida dietitian says.

Laura Acosta, a lecturer in the UF/IFAS food science and human nutrition department, cited a 2016 Baylor University study that found that insufficient transportation is a hurdle for many families in Texas whose children could benefit from free summer meals from a federally funded program.

School lunches provide one avenue for feeding these children healthier food, Acosta said.

Lack of access to affordable, nutritious food is known as “food insecurity.” Children from families that are food insecure are likely going to eat a healthier diet once school starts, Acosta said. For one thing, schools must offer meals that conform with federal school breakfast and lunch guidelines and typically offer these for free or at reduced cost to low-income families.

Additionally, nonprofits such as Food4Kids send children home with backpacks full of food on weekends on holidays.

“For these children, the summer can be challenging, due to the limited availability of these types of programs at some school districts that run primarily during the school year,” said Acosta.

Even if a child does have adequate access to nutritious food, he or she may let their diet slip a bit into more fatty, sugary or processed foods during the summer, depending on self-discipline and parental supervision, Acosta said.

If healthy eating slips off track during the summer, Acosta offered these tips that might help families to get back on track during the school year are:

  • Plan ahead: Try to set aside one day each week for food preparation. Families can prepare several healthy meals that kids can eat throughout the week. Acosta also suggested families pack lunches the night before, keeping a variety of healthy after school snacks in the house.

 

  • Follow suggestions from choosemyplate.org: For most meals, try to pattern your plate off the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate program. It recommends that about half the plate be filled with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with protein foods and one quarter with grains. Dairy should also be incorporated throughout the day, as this is a good source of calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin and high-quality protein. See MyPlate to learn more.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

 

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