Posted by: Gurindam Jiwa | Sunday, July 20, 2008

Positive Parenting: School Food

We worry about what our children eat at school. We worry about what the school canteen is selling to our children. We worry about what the illegal traders are selling to our children outside the school compound. We worry about what the school administration is doing about it. And we ask ourselves what we can do about it.

Here is an article that is published by the Sunday Star today in the StarMag fit4life section on page SF7.

It gives us an outline of what we can do about it.

Sunday July 20, 2008
School food
By Assoc Prof Dr Poh Bee

What kind of foods should you give your child to help him tackle his school days with ease?

IT’S not enough to get straight As nowadays. Universities prefer to give scholarships to all-rounders, candidates who excel academically as well as in sports and who actively participate in extra-curricular activities. In short, the world wants winners – productive, healthy and well adjusted young adults who show the most promise of being successful in their careers, contributing positively to the community and the country for a long time to come.

As parents, isn’t this what we all want for our children? But winners are not made overnight. We have to start at the beginning, when our children are very young, to lay the foundation. And one of the cornerstones of that foundation is nutrition.

Nutrition for school

When it is time for school, nutrition and learning go hand in hand. Let’s see why.

  • When children’s nutritional needs are met, they go into class alert, focused and ready to tackle the day’s academic challenges.
If recess meals are questionable, we can always supplement their intake with packed food from home.

If recess meals are questionable, we can always supplement their intake with packed food from home.

  • Well-nourished children think sharper, score higher in exams, have better school attendance because they fall sick less often, and exhibit fewer classroom behavioural problems.
  • In sports and physical education, they have the energy and stamina to take them to the finish line.

How do parents ensure that every school day is optimal learning day for their child? Here are some tips.

Breakfast blast-off

Nothing starts the day better than breakfast, which fuels the brain and body. Wholegrain bread or sandwiches, fruits or fresh juices, porridge, cereals and milk are good breakfast choices.

Studies have confirmed that breakfast helps children concentrate, think, behave and learn. Also, when students routinely start their day with breakfast, they learn habits that carry over to their teen and adult years.

Send them packing

Once they’ve hopped onto the school bus, we no longer have any control over what our children will buy to eat in school. Canteen food may not be the most fresh or the most hygienic and there’s always the temptation of junk food.

If recess-time meals are questionable, we can always supplement their intake with packed food from home. Change these meals everyday to give variation to your child’s diet as no single food supplies all the essential nutrients necessary for growing bodies. Add a fruit or a few raw vegetables and top this up with a packet of milk.

Milk to wash down

The importance of milk cannot be overstated. Milk is a natural nutrient powerhouse. With nine essential nutrients including calcium, protein, potassium, phosphorous, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin, milk provides the catalyst for strong bones and teeth, cell growth, muscle mass development, nervous system health and so on.

Milk is what a child needs to grow up strong and healthy. Girls in particular need milk for calcium especially in preparation for the onset of menarche. So long as a child drinks milk, whether it’s flavoured or the unsweetened plain variety, he will be well nourished. Not only that, research has found that children who drink milk are less likely to be overweight when they become teenagers.

After school snacks

Snacks are great concentration boosters because they satisfy hunger pangs, which can be distracting. They also provide a steady supply of nutrients and energy needed for all those after school activities like play or enrichment pursuits such as music, ballet, art and language.

Nutritious snacks eaten in between main meals fill the gaps for nutrients that children miss out at meal times. Do remember though that snacks are not meal replacements. They also should not be fried fatty foods. A good guideline for a nutritious snack would be to follow the Food Guide Pyramid, but here are some ideas:

  • A cucumber sandwich with tuna
  • Kuih apam
  • Tau foo fah
  • Chocolate milk and a banana
  • Yoghurt and oat cookies
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Wholemeal toast with peanut butter

Nutrition and the brain

Nutrition plays a key role in the achievement of a child’s full human potential. The most critical period is from birth to two years as this is the time of tremendous growth in all aspects of his development – motor, sensory, cognitive, mental physical and socio-emotional.

As the child grows during this time, his brain experiences rapid growth, in size, weight and density. Micronutrient deficiencies, protein and energy deficiencies that lead to underweight and stunting during these vital formative years will have negative repercussions.

Poor school performance, poor language development and poor health will lead to similarly poor outcomes in work capacity, reproduction and overall health during adolescence and adulthood.

A baby is born with about 100 billion neurons (or brains cells). By the time he is two years old, neuron density would have increased five-fold, with hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells.

Myelination (the fat insulation that connects one neuron to another), which affects the speed of information processing, is also the most rapid in this period. For instance, the myelination of motor and sensory neurons allow for better neuro-muscular control, which is why it typically takes one to two years before an infant can walk.

Nutrients are essential for brain growth during this time. Breast milk offers the best mix, but at weaning time around six months of age, iron supplementation is needed, which is why most infant cereals are fortified with iron.

Iron is critical for maintaining an adequate number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells necessary to fuel brain growth. Iron deficiency is linked to mental deficits in young children.

• This article is courtesy of the Positive Parenting Nutrition Programme by Malaysian Paediatric Association and Nutrition Society Of Malaysia. The programme is supported by an unconditional educational grant from Abbott Nutrition International. For further information, please visit



  1. salam .. i used to wake up extra early to prepare “nutritious food” for the kid to bring to school but the passion to buy from the canteen and the outside hawkers seems to be tastier than the sandwich or what so ever i’ve prepared. the food sometimes ended in some other kid’s stomach (never mind that) or became fungus field in the bag. oh .. and the juice i’ve packed also been “kekah” by the friends .. they said “your drink taste good”. duh!


    I think a lot of parents have pretty much the same experience. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Other people’s drink always taste better than our own. The same goes for other people’s food. So I guess we may just as well consider it as “amal jariah.”

  2. Hi… nice article..When I was in school I used to buy alot of stuff from the canten and street hawkers… Ive since learned that parents should not discourage this… rather..moderation is key.
    If you get your child to refrain from anything that is from outside they will tend to be more sensitive to it when they grow up… instead get them used to all kinds of food.

    Moderation is one thing. Hygiene and nutrition are another. Just as moderation, hygiene and nutrition, too, affect health. But education is required in order to understand things like hygiene and nutrition. This is where sometimes parents have to refrain their children when the children are still young while going through the education process.

    But one man’s meat is another man’s poison. I have seen some adults who just wouldn’t mind eating with flies buzzing around their necks, and filthy cats gawking at their food.

    We also have this concept of “halaalan toyyiban.” So we shouldn’t simply eat ALL kinds of food. But that is probably another forum of discussion.

    Thank you for stopping by. I really appreciate it.

  3. […] is what I had been trying to say all along. May be not as explicitly. Perhaps the language got in the way. But a little reading wouldn’t hurt, after all educators […]

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