Now that the frenzy of preparing to send the kids back to school has ended, parents may be breathing a little easier. But what parents often fail to consider is that children need more than the items in their backpacks to succeed in the classroom.

Nothing contributes more to a child’s ability to learn than the combination of a healthy diet, daily exercise and adequate sleep.

These healthy habits coupled with a diet rich in protein, low sodium and low-fat meats, reduced fat cheese and low-fat dairy products and whole grains boosts a child’s ability to concentrate, solve problems and think creatively at school.

Carefully managing a child’s diet seems like a daunting task, but it’s as simple as making a commitment to eating at home more often. After all, parents select the groceries that are brought into the home and control the foods that are available for snacks and meals.

Giving the chips ahoy cookies the heave-ho, opens the door to nutritious and delicious alternatives such as apple slices with caramel dip, reduced fat cheese sticks and veggies with ranch dip.

The connection between a healthy diet and a child’s academic success is even more striking when children frequently eat meals with their families.

These children tend to consume more fruits and vegetables and eat fewer snacks than those who eat on their own.

High school seniors who frequently eat meals with their families have been shown to score higher on academic placement tests, more often describe themselves as “happy” and according to a University of Michigan study, are less likely to use illicit drugs than their counterparts who routinely eat on their own.

Regularly sitting down to meals together gives family members an opportunity to share daily activities and become more emotionally connected to each other. Along the way, children are developing a healthy attitude toward food.

Providing more nutritious foods for children and eating meals as a family require some planning, but it’s well worth the effort.

Encouraging family members to help with grocery shopping and meal preparation will help keep everyone on track. The goal is the keep food selections low in fat, sodium and carbohydrates and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Lean protein should be a staple of every growing child’s diet.

As parents, it is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of back to school shopping.

Remember that nothing will contribute more to your child’s success at school this year than a commitment to sending him off each day with a healthy mind and body.

Dr. Cesar Lara contributed to this article.

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