Every family tackles the lunch box issue differently. Some pack lunch the night before. Some scramble to find anything, anything, in the fridge to send to school. On frantic mornings, or when facing an empty fridge, some parents dig through their spare change for lunch money and solve the problem that way.
Besides saving money and providing items you know your child will eat, and that you want them to eat, packing children a lunch to take to school may mean they are less likely to be overweight, according to a recent University of Michigan study.
A healthy and well-balanced lunch is just as important as the right school supplies, says Nora Carrillo, Program Manager, Early Childhood Development Program at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Kids may have a hard time choosing a well-balanced meal from the school cafeteria or may prefer to bring foods from home. Carillo offers these tips on just what makes a healthy lunch:
Step 1: Pack in protein and nutrient dense carbs. These two food groups are necessary to keep kids energized and alert. Protein plays an important role in building muscle, keeping organs healthy and supporting a strong immune system. Carbohydrates are essential in giving children a readily available source of energy before hitting a mid-afternoon slump.
As with all foods, there are some choices that are healthier than others. Packing a lean deli meat sandwich like turkey over one with more fat, such as salami, will reduce both fat and calorie intake. Other protein-packed foods include beans, nuts, milk, and eggs. Also, choosing unrefined, complex starches such as whole-wheat bread will provide essential vitamins and minerals as well as fiber which can make the child feel fuller and reduce overall calorie intake.
Step 2: Add in fruits and veggies. It is recommended that everyone have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and veggies contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and some are good sources of simple carbohydrates. Vitamins and minerals are important for helping children grow and develop. Important vitamins include vitamin A for eyesight which can be found in carrots and other orange foods. Vitamin C is great for the immune system and can be found in citrus, broccoli and other foods. One essential mineral is potassium which helps keep the muscles and nervous system working right and can be found in foods such as bananas, broccoli, and tomatoes. Along with keeping children full, fiber also aids in digestion and is found in high amounts in many fruits and vegetables.
Step 3: Quench thirst with water or milk. The entire body needs water to work properly. It is used in digestion, keeps the body cool with perspiration, is found in large amounts in the blood and is vital to many other bodily functions. Water is found in every fluid we drink, but plain water and milk are the best choices for growing children. Sugary juices and sodas contain a lot of calories with little nutritional value, so intake should be limited. Low-fat milk, on the other hand, has protein, vitamin D, and calcium so calories consumed are packed with nutrition.
Step 4: Pack a small treat. Being healthy is hard work and let’s face it – almost every kid has a sweet tooth. Reward kids for eating a nutritious lunch by serving a 100 calorie snack pack or a fun-sized candy bar and satisfy a craving for something sweet.
Step 5: Give a little encouragement. Kids love finding a special message from Mom or Dad in their lunch sack. Simply wishing good luck on a test or leaving a note on a banana may make a child’s day.