Quad Cities, IL/IA

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Packing Better School Lunches — Tips to Get Your Kids to Eat Righ


By Jeni Tackett, Nutrition Blogger, RD, LD, Unity Point-Trinity

As parents, we are helping our children form habits that will last them for a lifetime. How do your children’s back-to-school lunches rate? The number of obese children has more than tripled in the 30 years since I was a child. And, did you know that the average American consumes 132 pounds of sugar a year?

As school starts, below are some strategies all of us (parents…and yes, grandparents!) can employ to turn this issue around. I have also provided some great ideas for healthier and tastier sack lunches that I use with my own kids as they had back to school.

  • Have the nutrition talk. We talk to our kids about drugs, sex, and other bad things we want them to avoid. Talk to your children about eating healthy and why it is important. Explain how to read a food label and why fruits and vegetables are so good for them. Explain why starting the day with a pop-tart isn’t a good way to fuel their bodies and minds.
  • Set a good example. Actions speak louder than words. If you want your children to develop healthy lifestyle habits then you need to show them how! I have a friend whose daughter needed to lose some weight, so she suggested that they start exercising together. Her daughter cried and stated, “If I need to exercise then that means you think I’m fat.” My friend asked her where she learned that from, and her daughter explained that every time her mom wanted to lose weight she started to exercise. Kids are smart. They watch everything you do. You need to eat healthy and exercise regularly if you expect them to do the same.
  • Be informed. Have you seen what the kids are served for breakfast and lunch at school? Does anyone think an “uncrustable” has any nutritional value? Let your school know how they can improve the breakfast and lunch program. If you are not happy with what the school is serving, pack a healthy lunch for your children. I have a friend who did not read the school breakfast calendar until her son came home with glaze all over his shirt. She asked where all the glaze came from and he said, “From the giant glazed donut I got for breakfast!”  She started reading the calendar after that.
  • Provide a healthy after-school snack. Kids come home really hungry after a day at school. Many kids get in the habit of munching on junk food until dinner. Not surprisingly, they don’t have any room for broccoli at dinner. When your kids get home from school, make them a healthy snack, and have them sit down at the kitchen table and eat. Kids that eat in front of the TV or while playing video games tend to overeat and not focus on their snack.
  • Buy healthy foods. Fill your house with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy snacks for kids. Keep a fruit basket on the table, keep cut up veggies in the fridge, and include your children in making healthy choices at the grocery store. If you have a busy evening, plan healthy quick meals such as whole-wheat pasta and steamed veggies. Eating healthy has to be a priority in a busy household!

Easy brown bag tips for tasty school lunches

  • Include mainly whole foods instead of processed foods. Whole foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, meats, dairy products, whole grains, and nuts. Processed foods include cake, cookies, chips, and candy.
  • Balance the lunch: include some lean protein (lean meats, beans, tofu), a healthy source of carbohydrate (fruit, low-fat dairy, whole grains), and healthy fats (nuts, avocado, olive oil).
  • Include a cold pack to keep foods cold. Invest in a good thermos for hot meals at lunchtime when a microwave is not available.

Think Outside the Sandwich

  • Red pepper hummus with baby carrots, celery, and whole-wheat pita triangles.
  • Fat free Greek yogurt with low fat granola and sliced berries.
  • Whole-wheat crackers, slices of low fat cheese, and grapes.
  • A salad with diced chicken or hard-boiled eggs, chickpeas, and your child’s favorite salad dressing on the side (low fat ranch is a favorite with kids).
  • Homemade soups made in bulk on the weekend and put in a thermos for a warm, comforting lunch during the week. Here are some healthy soup recipes: http://www.cookinglight.com/food/quick-healthy/healthy-soup-recipes.

You can make lunches more exciting by cutting sandwiches into fun shapes for younger children. Cut up a variety of fruit for a colorful fruit salad. Include some low fat ranch dip or low fat whipped topping to make fruit and vegetables fun at lunchtime. With proper planning, your children’s diet can be high in fiber and the nutrients they need to grow, and still be fun to eat!

Read more about how the Quad Cities are staying healthy and active by visiting Let’s Move Quad Cities at www.letsmoveqc.com.

Photos courtesy of Unity Point-Trinity