When school starts and life gets hectic, it’s easy to fall into the bad habit of packing quick, unhealthy lunches for your children to take to school. The good news is that there are plenty of options out there for healthy, satisfying meals that kids will love! Here are five tips for packing a healthier lunch for your kids.
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1. Avoid prepackaged lunches
As tempting as they are because of their convenience, it’s probably best to leave out many of the prepackaged foods, such as the popular cheese-and-cracker lunches. These pre-packaged lunches tend to be high in sodium, sugar, and preservatives, all things that growing kids should avoid. Instead, focus on including fresh, packed-at-home options from the food groups your children need to thrive. For example, start with a whole protein option such as a hard-boiled egg, homemade peanut butter on wheat bread sandwich, or low-sodium tuna sandwich. Once you have your protein, add fruits, vegetables, and dairy products to achieve a complete, healthy meal.
2. Provide appropriate portion sizes
One of the problems with parents allowing their children to pack their own lunches is that children don’t always understand the right amount of food to include. If you allow your child to pack their lunch, make sure you provide plenty of oversight to make sure that the contents they include in their lunch box are not only healthy but that they’re in kid-sized portions. One protein item, one sensible fruit portion, such as an apple, one sensible vegetable portion, such as five pieces of broccoli, and one dairy food option, such as a small yogurt container, along with a healthy drink, should be plenty. If you choose to add a dessert, consider making it a healthy homemade dessert or one purchased from a health food store. You can help protect your children from childhood obesity by encouraging them not to overeat.
3. Avoid tooth-decaying treats
Kids love the sugary, sticky treats deceptively marketed as “fruit snacks,” or “fruit roll-ups,” don’t they? But dentists warn that such snacks, even the homemade versions, can actually be harmful to children’s teeth. They get lodged in the crevices of the back teeth, and they’re difficult to dislodge without vigorous brushing. Even if you send your child to school with a toothbrush and toothpaste and instruct them to brush after lunch, it’s likely that at least some of the sticky, sugary substance from fruit snacks or fruit roll-ups will remain on their teeth. Some other tooth-decaying foods include raisins, granola bars, peanut butter cookies, and even starchy snacks like potato chips and pretzels. Dentists recommend foods that are rich in calcium, like yogurt, milk, cheese, and broccoli. You can contact a dentist at a place like Northwest Dental Services and Implant Center if you have any questions.
4. Focus on Fruits and veggies
Children can obtain plenty of nourishing nutrients and vitamins from fresh fruits and vegetables. Rather than including processed applesauce with added sugar or other sweetened containers of fruit in your child’s lunch, you can satisfy their sweet tooth with an apple or pear. Dentists recommend fruits that are high in water, such as pears and melons, because they don’t cause as much tooth decay as fruits with a higher sugar concentration.
5. Substitute milk or water for juice
Juice is often considered healthy, but it can contain about as much sugar as soda. Rather than load your child up on unnecessary sugar at lunch time, you can fuel their mind and body and quench their thirst with milk or water. Milk contains plenty of calcium for strong, healthy bones. Drinking water at lunch as well as throughout the school day is a great way for your child to stay hydrated.
Parents are responsible to do all they can to keep their kids as healthy as possible. By taking these simple steps you can help your child build lifelong positive eating habits.
We have added this school lunch post to our Back to School Guide.