Start the School Year Off With an "A" In Lunchbox Nutrition

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • I remember, as a child, how important it was to pick the perfect lunchbox for the new school year. Is Strawberry Shortcake too young? Is Barbie too girly? Will I still like Muppets in January? It was a big decision! Of course while I worried about what was on the outside, my mom was more concerned with what she was going to put in that lunchbox.

    Nutrition plays an enormous role in a child’s energy, stamina and attention span at school. A nutritious breakfast and lunch are as important to a child’s learning as the textbooks in the classroom. However, sending your child off to school with a lunch that provides adequate nutrition, but is also tasty enough that he won’t trade his healthy food for someone else’s more appealing dessert isn’t an easy task.
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    According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), school lunches should provide one-third of a child’s nutrition needs. But meeting calorie needs alone isn’t good enough. A meal can be calorically dense without being healthy. The USDA also reports that only two percent of school-aged children meet the Food Guide Pyramid serving recommendations for all five major food groups.

    To adequately fuel your child for learning, you need to pack a well-balanced lunch. Try to hit all the food groups; a lunch consisting of a lean meat, whole grain, low-fat dairy product and fruit and/or vegetable is a well-balanced, healthy lunch. Packing a sandwich with lean meat or tuna fish is good – but making that sandwich with whole grain bread, a good source of fiber, is even better. Fruit, vegetables and yogurt or milk money should be lunchbox standards. A peanut butter sandwich is a great option for those hot weeks at the beginning and end of the school year. However, before sending your child to school with peanut butter, find out if his school is peanut-free.

    While pre-packaged lunches are convenient, these processed foods are much higher in fat, sugar, sodium and calories than a home packed lunch. Avoid packing foods that provide a lot of empty calories, such as high calorie drink boxes. Instead send your child to school with a bottle of water, which will keep him hydrated, but won't cause a sugar crash in the middle of math class. If your child insists on having a flavored drink - try diluting the sugary drink boxes with water and packing them in a thermos.

    Kids, like adults, aren't likely to eat foods that they don't like or aren't in the mood for, so ask your child what he wants you to pack in his lunch. Take advantage of the opportunity to talk to him about nutrition and teach him which foods are healthy and will help him grow, and which foods won't. If you involve your child in deciding what to pack for lunch – he may be less likely to swap food with friends at lunchtime.

    If you're still worried that your child will use his milk money for ice cream or trade his healthy food items for sugary snacks and treats, then pack a dessert. Whole fruit snacks, apple slices with a tablespoon of caramel dipping sauce, one cookie or homemade trail mix with a small amount of M&M’s can satisfy your child’s sweet tooth without piling on the calories.
Published On: August 24, 2006

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