School lunches generally receive poor grades when it comes to their nutrition content and are typically short on fresh fruits and vegetables and heavy on processed, breaded, and fried entrees.
Take, for example, the study of sixth graders recently published in the American Heart Journal that found that students were 29 percent more likely to be obese if they ate school lunches.
Most parents appreciate the importance of good nutrition and aim to provide healthy food choices for their children. After all, good nutrition helps provide them with the energy required to function effectively in the classroom. Also, children that have a more substantial lunch at school are less likely to graze on high calorie, high fat snack foods when they get home.
As parents, we know that good nutrition will help our children grow-up healthy, but what foods comprise a healthy meal? Here are some "good nutrition" guidelines for you to follow when your kids BYOL:
- Lean Meat/Protein Substitutes -- Such as chicken or turkey breast, tuna packed in water, eggs, beans, fat-free cheese, fat-free cottage cheese or yogurt
- Whole Grains -- Such as a 100 percent whole grain bread, crackers, English muffins, pitas, tortillas, or cereals
- Fruits and Vegetables -- At least one portion each of a fruit and vegetable (children tend to prefer it sliced which is easier to handle -- for cut fruit that tends to go brown i.e. apples -- squeeze lemon juice)
- Beverage -- Low in sugar and preferably without artificial ingredients, such as infused water or lightly sweetened iced tea
- Optional: Healthy Green Light Snack -- Such as air-popped popcorn, trail mix, dried fruit bars (like Trader Joes Fiberful bars)
This balanced lunch will provide your child with a variety of nutrients including: fiber, calcium, protein, and iron.
Read labels: Avoid foods with unhealthy food additives and other ingredients such as:
- partially hydrogenated oils
- saturated fats
- artificial colors and flavorings
- high sodium
- excess sugar
- MSG -- Look for glutamic acid or glutamate on the ingredients list.
Tip -- Choose natural and organic foods as much as possible.
With a clearer sense of what to include, it should be easier to prepare healthy lunches. But what about getting your kids to eat the lunches you prepare? These tips can help you pack wholesome meals that your kids are likely to eat and enjoy.
Involve your child -- Children often like to help their parents and are more likely to eat foods that they choose and make. So let them help you make the shopping list, look through recipes, and help prepare their lunches (to whatever extent their skills allow). The kitchen can become a place where you can bond with your children over food and educate them in a fun atmosphere.
Portion appropriately -- Offer more foods in smaller serving sizes versus large quantities of fewer foods so that larger portions do not overwhelm your child.
Create variety -- Don't get into the rut of serving only the foods your child says he will eat. The wider the range of colors a meal offers, the more varied nutrients it contains. If your children are interested in trying new foods, suggest that they keep a log of new foods and what they think about them.
Add visual appeal -- Presentation can make lunch fun and interesting for kids. Use cookie cutters to cut fruits, veggies and sandwiches in fun shapes. Choose lunch containers in their favorite colors and let them decorate the outside.
Transform old favorites -- For example, take the usual ham and cheese sandwich and use whole-wheat bread instead of white, and substitute organic ham.