Living Well: Beyond PB&J: Getting creative with School Lunches

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TMH Back-to-School Health Fair

Come meet Dr. Kelly Follett and learn more about good eating habits at the free Back-to-School Health Fair sponsored by The Memorial Hospital. A variety of healthy living events and services will be offered.

When: Today

Where: TMH Medical Clinic — 785 Russell St.

Times: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

When life gets busy it’s easy to fall into the same routine with school lunches. Peanut butter and jelly may be your child’s favorite, but it doesn’t mean she wants to eat it every day. Avoid falling into a rut by planning ahead and offering fun and creative alternatives to the sandwich-apple-drink combo with pre-planning, variety and the correct gear.

“The best way to prevent the monotony of school lunches is preparing beforehand. Creating a weekly shopping list for lunches and packing the night before helps,” says Dr. Kelly Follett, the new pediatrician at The Memorial Hospital.

What is there beyond the PB&J? Think sandwich with a twist: “Tortilla wraps, pita bread, bagels and even whole grain crackers are good alternatives to bread,” Follett adds.

Gear up

Sometimes all it takes is having the right gear. Kids love lunch boxes with compartments. They also love separate little containers. Getting small containers that seal well allows you to send along condiments, like ranch dressing or hummus for dipping celery, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.

“Kids like dipping things. Take the time to cut up vegetables and have them easily available in the fridge,” she advises.

Send along whipped cream cheese for dipping fruits, like apple slices, grapes and strawberries. Pack peanut butter or another nut butter for dipping banana slices, apple slices and celery sticks.

Finally, invest in a good thermos. This will allow you to send along that leftover spaghetti or stew you had last night for dinner. It’s also good for packing hot dogs with ketchup at the bottom for dipping.

Select ready-to-go foods

The next time you go to the grocery store, shop with an eye toward quick, yet healthy lunchbox items. Great suggestions from Follett include squeezable yogurts, pretzels, trail mixes, nuts, cheese sticks, granola bars, dry cereal, vegetable sticks, mandarin oranges and small apples.

Be aware of quick foods in flashy packages that are targeted to kids. They are often high in sugar and fat, and low in nutrition. It’s important to pack a balanced lunch. Depending on a child’s age, she should eat one to three cups of vegetables a day and one to two cups of fruit.

“Of all the food types, vegetables are probably lacking the most in kids’ diets,” Follett says.

Pack in nutrition

Follett advises parents to follow the 1+1+1+1+1 rule when it comes to packing nutritious lunches: put in one fruit, one veggie, one grain, one (to two) protein sources and one dairy. Think grapes and carrots with dipping sauce, whole-grain tortilla wrap with cheese and turkey and boxed milk.

“Sending juice boxes is alright occasionally, but better choices are milk, vegetable juice and bottled water. Even 100 percent juice offers a lot of empty calories, ” she says.

Variety is a key element to good nutrition: “Even though two foods may be from the same food group, they each could have different vitamins and other nutrients,” Follett says.

Don’t be shy to try something new in your child’s lunch. Getting him involved in shopping and selecting new foods to try helps build interest.

“Taste is a lot about familiarity, so the more often you introduce a food, the better luck you will have. It’s important for the child to experience a varied diet from an early age. It helps set the stage for a good eater throughout life,” concludes Follett.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig – improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.

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