For most families there is one more week before school
starts. That means plenty of time to start thinking about preparing healthy
lunches and snacks for children to take to school.
Even though new federal rules will help provide children with more nutritious meal options, a parent’s best choice is to prepare the meals themselves. The American Heart Association said sending meals from home guarantees your youngsters are getting healthy and less expensive meals.
Packing a healthy lunch at home means children get the nutrition they need without all the fat, calories and salt found in convenience foods and many school lunch meals. Too much salt, calories and fat can contribute to long-term health issues like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Overweight and obese conditions affect one in three American kids and many suffer from type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol levels.
“Kids love to have a variety of foods in their lunch boxes, especially finger foods,” said Poughkeepsie chef Gretchen Acquanita.
Her suggestions for a healthy lunch include a choice of from the rainbow of red, orange and green foods in the produce department. Select as assortment of red peppers, apples or tomatoes and carrots or peaches and salad or celery sticks.
She said, “And getting kids in the kitchen to help pack lunches and help with dinner preparations is a great way to get them excited about eating healthy foods.”
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded in 2005 with the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, suggests including one serving of vegetables or salad and one serving of fresh, canned or dried fruit; one serving of a low-fat or fat-free milk or dairy item such as a low-fat cheese stick, yogurt cup, or some cottage cheese; plus one serving of meat, chicken, fish, eggs, peanut butter, beans or another protein source.
10 healthy lunchbox tips:
- Pack healthy drinks such as water, low-fat milk or 100% juice with no added sugar.
- Beverage containers frozen the night before can keep a lunchbox cool until lunchtime.
- Use whole wheat bread, pita, wraps or flatbreads for sandwiches.
- Pick lean luncheon meats like turkey, ham or leftover chicken breast.
- Choose reduced fat mayo or salad dressing or mustard to dress a sandwich
- Add mixed greens or baby spinach leaves for extra nutrients
- Eliminate calorie-rich and nutrient-empty soda and energy drinks.
- Try protein/iron-rich hummus with fresh veggies and whole-wheat pita triangles for dipping.
- Mix low-fat or fat-free calcium-rich cottage cheese with carrots, cherry tomatoes, berries, or melon.
- Top green salads with lean protein like hard-boiled eggs, beans or chicken.
Other back to school lunchbox strategies include: getting lunch ready right after dinner, keeping dressings on the side to prevent soggy lunches and rinsing, cutting and packing fruit and veggies in snack bags on Sunday night so they are ready for the week.
To keep kids happy who want to buy a lunch, check the school lunch menu to select healthier meals in advance and pack a healthy lunch on the other days.