It’s back-to-school season for military children. Everywhere crayons, glue sticks, pencils, and scissors fly off the shelves as parents rush to check off the never ending school supplies lists. But one item that can easily be overlooked in the business of everything else is something that is very important to a child’s day and lasts throughout the entire year: Lunch.
For many, lunch may not seem like it requires much preparation. After all, it is easy to send kids to school with a Lunchables and a drink, or with money to buy the school lunch. But providing kids with not just fuel, but quality fuel, can help them stay focused and energized throughout the day and establishes healthy eating habits at a young age.
Putting together a healthy lunch for kids can be a daunting task. However, with a little bit of planning and a few basic steps, parents can create nutritious lunches their kids will enjoy.
Here are some guidelines to help get the process started:
1. Include all the nutrients. Fat, carbohydrates, and protein are important in every meal to sustain energy and improve satiety (the feeling of fullness). Look for items that have healthy mono- or polyunsaturated fats over saturated and trans-fats and carbs that are higher in fiber and lower in sugar.
2. Focus on food groups. Aim to provide at least one fruit and vegetable serving, one dairy serving, and one whole grain serving at lunch. Grapes, apples, baby carrots, or cherry tomatoes are great portable snacks to add to lunch. Cheese sticks and low-fat yogurt or milk help fulfill the calcium requirement and whole wheat bread or high fiber granola bars provide valuable whole grains.
3. Think about the drink. Water or low-fat milk, including chocolate milk, are the best choices for a sustainable lunch. However, juice can be a good addition as long as it is 100% juice.
4. Use sugar wisely. There is nothing wrong with including a sweet treat in your child’s lunch, but be mindful of the amount of sugar in the other items you pack as well. Many snack foods that appear to be healthier, such as granola bars, breakfast bars, and yogurt, are loaded with sugar. If cookies or candy are a must, try to find healthier versions of the other snacks that contain less sugar. Also, fruit snacks and fruit roll-ups are not considered a fruit, and count as a dessert in my book!
5. Check ingredient lists. Packaged snack foods are becoming notorious for the high amounts of chemicals and preservatives that expand their shelf life. Check the ingredient lists for everything you buy. The first few ingredients should be quality ingredients that you can understand. If there is a long list of ingredients that you cannot pronounce, put it back on the shelf. Watch out for ingredients such as BHT (a preservative), and artificial dyes such as Red 40, both of which are controversial additives that could have negative effects in the body.
6. Not all sandwiches are created equal. White bread has next to no nutritional value and many deli meats are filled with chemical nitrates. To build a healthier sandwich, look for 100% whole wheat bread, or other whole grain breads if wheat is not an option, and sliced meats that have no added preservatives. When choosing peanut butter, choose natural versions which do not have harmful hydrogenated oils or try other butters such as almond butter or sunflower butter. If your child is not a sandwich fan, some other options are quesadillas made on a whole-wheat tortilla, white-meat chicken nuggets, or deli meat and cheese slices on whole grain crackers.
7. Try some recipes. Making food from scratch is the healthiest way to eat. It is not always economical, but if you have the time to try some new recipes, you might find that your child likes your version better than the store-bought one and you have the benefit of knowing exactly what went into it. Granola bars, peanut butter energy bites, and healthier cookies are all foods that you can prepare at home and pack in your child’s lunch. Pinterest, Foodtv.com, and Allrecipes.com are some of my favorite sites for finding from-scratch recipes.
For more information on healthy lunches, go to: www.choosemyplate.gov
Guest Post by: Homefront United Network