MRH Living Well Column: Set kids up for success with healthy school lunches
August 23, 2017
School starts next week; are you ready with some healthy lunch ideas? It can be easy to fall into the same routine with school lunches, but it's best to mix it up. Variety encourages kids to adopt new foods, and eating a rainbow is the healthy way to go. Here are some tips on making sure your kids not only get variety, but also the nutrition they need to do well at school.
Pack whole foods
"It's important that our calories come from the right kinds of foods. Whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, nuts and seeds, along with lean protein, provide the best nutrients for performance," said Dr. Kristi Yarmer, pediatrician with Memorial Regional Health.
One trick when picking items for healthy lunches is to consider how far removed something is from its natural source, and how many extra ingredients—and ingredients you can't pronounce—are included.
"We often lose nutrition when we look for something quick and easy. For example, fruit juice is easy to pack in a lunch, but it doesn't have the nutrition that eating a piece of fruit has, even if it's 100% fruit juice," Yarmer said.
The ideal lunch includes an item with protein—like a nut butter or meat sandwich, hard-boiled egg, piece of chicken, or leftovers that contain meat, beans or tofu. It will also have a piece of fruit and cut up veggies, maybe with hummus or another healthy dip. For a drink, consider water, lightly flavored water, or milk.
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Think outside the box
Kids love finger food, small containers, and interesting ideas when it comes to food. Instead of just sending yogurt, send along a small container of fruit and granola to sprinkle on the top. Replace plain bread with a tortilla, pita, bagel, English muffin, or simply a large lettuce wrap. How about putting a salad into a whole wheat tortilla, complete with a piece of meat and their favorite dressing? Make a kid-friendly kabob with blunt-end skewers and put on cubes of chicken, cheese, cherry tomatoes and cut up peppers. There's a lot of ways to make food fun and healthy.
Yarmer particularly likes to notice sugar content when selecting items at the grocery store for her kids. For example, the typical juice box made for lunch boxes has about 22 grams of sugar. While sugar does provide energy, your young child in preschool or early elementary only needs about 4 teaspoons, or 16 grams a day. That's not a lot, and many kids commonly get much more than that.
Besides the obvious sodas, candy, desserts and baked goods, sugar can be found in unexpected places like yogurt, condiments, pasta sauce, salad dressings, protein shakes and energy bars. Studies show that sugar negatively impacts behavior and weakens immune systems.
"On testing day, be extra vigilant about providing a healthy breakfast and lunch. But also send your kids off with the message that they don't have to get the highest score, they just have to do their best," Yarmer concluded.
The MRH Medical Clinic providers are happy to help you establish healthy eating habits for your kids. Schedule a well child visit today to talk about your children's eating, exercise and sleeping habits to make sure they are on track to have a successful school year. For an appointment, call 970-826-2480.