Kids put tremendous thought into selecting a lunch box for the school year—making the right choice can be of prime importance in cafeteria culture. However, when it comes to what you pack in those shiny new containers, the stakes are higher. At a time when 17 percent of kids are overweight and most kids don’t consume enough fruits, vegetables, fiber and calcium, eating a healthy lunch is an essential subject.
To ensure that noontime is a healthy time, stock up on a variety of nutritious options and let your kids do most of the choosing. Limit fat, sugar and portion sizes, and encourage produce, whole grains and calcium. In addition, try these tips for healthier school lunches:
- Go for the grain. Forgo white bread and make sandwiches with fiber-rich options like multigrain, oat or whole-wheat breads, rolls, wraps and pitas.
- Choose healthier fillings. Select lean, low-fat varieties of turkey, ham, roast beef, chicken, tuna and cheese. Or stuff sandwiches with grilled vegetables. Opt for mustard and low-fat mayo.
- Pack last night’s leftovers. Cut a chicken cutlet into sticks or cubes to roll into a wrap or dunk in low-fat dressing. Pack a thermos of low-sodium soup with a salad or half sandwich.
- Don’t forget the veggies. Include precut baby carrots, celery, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, cauliflower and broccoli. Add a low-fat dip or dressing. Stack lettuce, tomato or sliced cucumber onto a sandwich.
- Make fruit a favorite. While the usual apples, pears, oranges and bananas are convenient, add variety with dried fruits, melon, mango, guava, star fruit and assorted grapes and berries.
- Up the fun factor. Cut a sandwich into a funky shape with a cookie cutter or use a mini-sized roll. Slice fruits and vegetables differently (like carrot coins instead of sticks) or skewer them onto toothpicks for fruit or veggie kabobs.
- Resist the junk snacks. Many seemingly healthy snacks are simply not wise choices. Granola bars may contain high amounts of fat and sugar, and so-called fruit snacks and roll-ups contain little fruit and plenty of sugar. Pack popcorn, pretzels, rice cakes, whole-grain crackers and dry cereal instead of chips.
- Remember that milk matters. The best beverages are water, low-fat milk and low-sodium vegetable juices. Limit sugary fruit drinks, sodas and teas. Many schools offer several milk flavors—plain, chocolate or strawberry. Let your kids pick their favorite. Include other calcium-rich foods like yogurt, low-fat cheese and pudding.
- Soothe a sweet tooth. Instead of candy and cakes, pack applesauce, Jell-O, graham crackers, fig bars, bran muffins, fresh fruit or canned fruit in light juice.
Finally, talk with your children and explain how eating a healthy lunch will help them learn, play and grow better.