My childhood memories of getting ready to go back to school are filled with picking out school supplies and a new pair of shoes. Now as a parent, its about checking off the endless list of necessities as my own children brew with anticipation.
In this issue, I’d like to provide some guidance for packing healthy lunches for kids which I’ve organized into some practical tips.
It starts in the supermarket. Choose that carry the biggest nutritional value not simply the ones with the most calories. These include whole food products like veggies, fruit, whole grains, seeds, and nuts (if they are allowed). These are nutrient dense with lots of fiber, low sugar, and low fat. For boxed items, read labels, especially the ingredients list and choose foods without added sugar like high fructose corn syrup.
Limit cheese intake. Cheese is one of those foods that I frequently pick on. While the argument can be made for added calcium, cheese is very calorically dense and high in saturated fat. When I interview parents of young patients I find invariably an exorbitant amount of cheese in most kid’s diets mainly due to convenience in the form of snacks. And remember, calcium can be obtained through other nutritious means.
Choose lean meat. Chicken, turkey, lean ham, and low fat lunch meats are great protein packed options. Try making a “roll” by rolling up veggies in a slice of one of these meats. Try to limit tuna to no more than 2 servings per week and make sure you choose tuna that is packed in water, not oil.
Include at least one serving of fruit. Fruits make a sweet and nutritious contribution to lunch. They are generally high in Vitamin A and C, fiber, and water. Pick seasonal organic options which will eliminate pesticide residues found on the skins of fruits. You’ll also find that organic fruits taste better than many mass produced versions.
Use vegetables creatively. This is probably the hardest one for most parents. Garnish a sandwich with spinach, sprouts, grated carrot, tomato or avocado instead of just lettuce. Pack a salad and put dressing in a separate container. Cut peppers and cucumbers into bite-sized pieces for dipping into low fat sauce.
Use whole grain bread instead of white bread. Choose bread that lists “whole wheat” as the first ingredient. If it lists simply “wheat or unbleached white flour” the product is not whole grain. Whole grains are loaded with B Vitamins, fiber, and iron.
Limit junk foods and baked treats: While tasty, junk food and baked treats are high in sugar, salt and fat. They are empty calories and simply not necessary.
Give water as a beverage option: We simply don’t drink enough water. It is usually an afterthought to offer a child water instead of milk or juice. Keeping our kids hydrated and limiting the number of calories from beverages is essential in reducing childhood obesity.
Packing lunches can be fun. Lastly, Encourage your child to help in the process of shopping and packing. Remember your job is to create the options while their job can be to choose among those options. This is an opportunity for them to be involved in a healthy lifestyle.