TUESDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- As parents prepare to send their children back to school, they need to remember that nutrition is an important factor in academic performance, an expert advises.

Studies have shown that children who eat healthy, balanced breakfasts and lunches are more alert throughout the school day and also earn higher marks than those who have an unhealthy diet, says Mary Pat Alfaro, clinical manager of the division of nutrition therapy at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, in a center news release.

A healthy breakfast includes a variety of foods such as fiber-rich and whole-grain cereals with low fat milk; yogurt and berries; toast, eggs and 100 percent fruit juice; or whole wheat bagels and cream cheese with low-fat milk.

When packing lunches, use the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid, Alfaro suggests. Include at least two servings from the bread group and one serving from each of the other food groups.

One way to prevent children from becoming bored with their lunches is to use pitas, bagels, English muffins, crackers or tortillas to make sandwiches instead of using bread all the time.

Alfaro also suggests packing fruit such as grapes, strawberries, apple wedges or melon chunks that's quick and easy to eat. Including a toothpick and a dipping sauce made with yogurt can coax reluctant fruit eaters to try it.

Children should be encouraged to drink low-fat white milk or plain or sugar-free flavored water. They should not drink beverages with added supplements such as herbs and caffeine, Alfaro says.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and healthy eating.