COLUMN: Start school year off right with healthy eating

Alberni dietitian and columnist offers up tips for why breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Back to school season often feels more like a new year than mid-winter January. After a summertime of vacations, holidaying and outdoor fun, routines start to be re-set for the month of September.

With this “back to school” time comes new resolutions of exercise and healthy eating regimes, even if school is not where you are headed.

Starting the day with something nutritious for breakfast is an excellent way to set the tone for a healthy start to the day ahead.

If breakfast has never been a staple for you, this one change could help pave the way to healthier habits. Ongoing studies indicate that breakfast eaters tend to have less weight problems. By “breaking the fast” with a balanced meal first thing, the body’s metabolism gets started and regular eating after that is better established and maintained.

Meal and snack timing throughout the day is important to consider if food cravings have been an issue, which may lead to weight and other health problems.

A strategy of eating every four hours is a reasonable method to help fuel your body regularly and prevent junk food cravings.

In addition, meal planning is a good way to keep the cupboards/fridge well stocked with healthy foods.

For some people, grains such as oatmeal with milk and fruit are a satisfying meal, yet others find a blender drink/smoothie can offer a quick, convenient mixture of healthful tasty nutrition.

Eggs, toast (made with seedy bread) and fruit are another reasonable, protein-rich breakfast to eat. Variety helps to keep interest in the first meal of the day.

A variety of ideas for a healthy breakfast include:

• wholegrain cereal with fruit and yogurt

• wholegrain seedy toast with a poached or boiled egg

• an omelette with a bran/berry muffin and fresh juice

• rye bread with nut butter and banana

•a whole wheat English muffin topped with lean ham and vegetable juice

• toaster waffle with low fat greek yogurt and fresh fruit

• hot cereal such as oatmeal is high in fibre and low in sugar

• smoothie with soy milk, berries and ground chia seeds.

More online ideas are available through ‘Dietitians of Canada’ website at

A hearty lunch is also important for those trying to establish more healthful meal routines.

“Eating like a king for breakfast, prince for lunch and pauper for dinner” is a saying that has some real health merit.Our North American society has generally done the opposite, with the majority in society eating a small breakfast, medium lunch and extra large dinner. This eating regime can be a source of problems for health, if a sedentary lifestyle is also a reality.

Eating a big meal at dinner, then heading to bed can lead to weight gain over time, since digestion is slowed down while sleeping and the body doesn’t need the energy at that time of day. This can also lead to feeling full on awakening and skipping breakfast. A negative, unhealthy cycle will be perpetuated with this routine.

The body requires the most energy at the beginning of the day (on awakening), and the least at the end of the day, when most daily tasks are over and it’s relaxation time. This may be a different scenario for shift workers, who need to sleep, wake and eat at different times of the day.

Along with healthier eating habits sometimes comes the desire to start moving more. For some people, a planned exercise regime is required to start the schedule off on the right track and build slowly from there.

For others, small incremental pieces of activity fit into the day’s schedule can be a method to be less sedentary and more active. Park further away from the entrance to the store, take the stairs rather than the elevator/escalator.

Do small amounts of pushups or leg raises, lift canned goods to boost upper body abilities. Any small improvements in activity will boost balance, flexibility, endurance and add to the increases in health benefits overtime.

One study, looking at 400,000 people in Taiwan, showed that just 15 minutes of daily activity assisted the individuals to reduce their risk of chronic disease by 14  per cent and increase life expectancy by three years.

With beginning any new exercise regime, more isn’t always better. The real risk of injury increases as an unfit person takes on too much, if their muscles/back are not accustomed to performing these new movements. Stretching and warming up prior to exercise is a key to success.

Check out the local recreation centre and other clubs for fitness programs designed for various levels of skill and abilities. Yoga, bootcamp, swimming, skating, Fit Beginnings, Nordic walking, aerobics, along with badminton, gymnastics, dance and a variety of organized sports, such as soccer, rugby, hockey, etc are available in ‘Sports’ Alberni.

Also, going outdoors to walk, bike, paddle or sail in a variety of different settings around the Alberni Valley is available for individuals looking to get some fresh air and fun adventures.


Sandra Gentleman is a registered dietitian who is passionate about health and wellness. She is co-owner of Canal Beach (formerly Wild West Watersports).

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