#MenuMonday: Healthy School Lunches

Lunch Box Love

The summer has flown by and back to school time is hear. Everyday, parents tell me that their motivation for healthier eating is to be a better role model for their children, so that their healthy lifestyle has the trickle down benefit for their kids. Kids are always watching, and you have the capacity to be a wonderful role model!

By practicing what you preach, embracing moderation instead of vilifying certain foods, and avoiding negative self talk about body images, you’ll be laying a healthy foundation for your child’s nutrition and relationship with food. Packing a healthy lunch is another behavior that you can feel good about. While many school systems are taking strides towards providing healthier menus, many still offer fast food or the like, so packing your lunch is a means of providing optimal nutrition for your growing child.

 

Lunch

Here are some tips to inspire your brown bagging for the school year.

 

1. Eat the Rainbow

The phrase “eat the rainbow” originates from the idea of eating an array of colorful produce in order to increase your intake of phytonutrients, the substances in plants that offer protective health benefits. So make your child’s lunch colorful. Include at least one fruit and vegetable, and focus on varying the colors. Try raw veggies and hummus or ranch dip (substitute the sour cream with Greek Yogurt!), celery and peanut butter, or leftover stir fry or vegetables from dinner. Another idea is to add spinach, tomato or cucumbers to their sandwich, or pack a side salad. Focus on fresh fruit or dried fruit without added sugar (like raisins, dried apricots, cranberries, etc.). Or have some fun with it and try making a homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, and whole grain cereal.

 

2. Rethink the Drink

Sugar sweetened beverages are a considerable source of added empty calories, meaning they offer no nutrition. So instead of sodas, opt for water, flavored seltzer, low fat milk, or 100% fruit juice. Encourage your child to keep a refillable water bottle with them so they can stay hydrated throughout the day, which will help them perform well in both academics and extracurriculars.

 

3. Go Lean

Lean protein will help them stay full and maintain muscle mass, so it is important to include a source of it with meals and snacks. For protein-rich snacks, try greek yogurt and fruit, cheese and whole wheat crackers like Wheat Thins or Triscuits, trail mix, nut butter and fruit, or hummus with pita, rice cakes, or veggies.  For their entree, consider varying the menu’s protein, incorporating both lean sources of animal protein such as egg salad, tuna salad, roast beef, chicken, turkey, or ham, as well as some non-animal sources of protein, like black beans and rice, a peanut butter and banana sandwich, or a hummus and avocado sandwich. Variety is always a good thing!

 

4. Mooove to Some Dairy

Kids and adolescents are active, growing, and working towards their peak bone mass. Including sources of dairy like a yogurt, string cheese, adding cheese to their sandwich, or low fat milk will help support strong bones and prevent fractures. If they do not tolerate dairy well, include fortified orange juice or cereals, almonds, roasted edamame or tofu, or greens like spinach, collards or broccoli at mealtimes.

 

5. Choose Snacks Wisely

Does your kid have a sweet tooth? A fruit flavored yogurt, low-fat chocolate milk, or smoothie is a better option than cake or a pastry. Try 100% fruit chews or snacks instead of gummy worms, or a serving of chocolate covered nuts instead of a brownie. Bars made from less processed, whole ingredients like Lara or Kind bars are great for after-school snack options. Looking for healthy savory snacks? Try ham and cheese rollups, pita and hummus, popcorn, or mixed nuts. Instead of chips, opt for whole grain crackers, baked chips, or chips made from vegetables like baked snap peas or sweet potato crisps. Add hummus, guacamole, or salsa for healthy condiments.

 
 
 

Remember, it is what we do most of the times, and not on occasion, that matters most, so let kids be kids sometimes and enjoy treats or less healthy options in moderation. Here’s to starting the school off on a healthy note!

 
 
 

– KEELEY MEZZANCELLO, RD, LD, CSCS

 

 

Photo: US News