Getting kids to eat their fruits and vegetables has never been easy, but there are ways to make school lunches healthier and more appealing to kids.
Fruit salads, light cream cheese on fruit, and low-fat cheese on whole-grain crackers are healthy lunch options that can keep energy levels up throughout the school day, said Katie Cornwall, a registered dietitian with Kaiser Permanente in the Napa Solano area. Baby carrots with a small container of vegetable dip, whole-wheat tortilla with turkey and low-fat yogurt are other good ways to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and provide the vitamins and nutrients children need.
“There are so many options to help kids get the nutrition they need at lunch time,” Cornwall said. “Lunch doesn’t have to be perfect. Providing a variety of healthy foods to help fuel your child is what is important. And if that means skipping the traditional sandwich for a variety of healthy, smaller, snack-type foods, that works too. Save the sandwich for after school when kids are usually hungry. Just remember to mix it up and give them variety.”
As the obesity problem among children continues to grow throughout the nation, there is more attention being placed on providing healthier options for school lunch menus. New nutrition standards went into effect July 1 as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, championed by first lady Michelle Obama.
School lunch menus will offer increased portions of fruits and vegetables and fewer foods high in sodium and fat. Even pizza is getting an overhaul with whole-wheat crust now a requirement under the new standards.
But packing a lunch instead of buying one is still a good way to give your child the right types of food. One of the most important things parents need to watch for when packing a school lunch is avoiding foods that are high in sugar. Instead of juice, pack a bottle of water. Make sandwiches using whole-grain breads instead of white bread, limit lunch meats that are high in fat and salt, and opt for low or non-fat dairy products.
Incorporating more fruit and veggies into lunches also doesn’t have to be difficult. Add some banana slices to a peanut-butter sandwich. Cut up veggies with a side of low-fat dressing for dipping. Make snack-size servings of home-made trail mix using peanuts, soybeans, raisins, unsweetened dried cranberries, almonds, whole-grain cereal and coconut.
“Ask your kids to participate in meal planning. When kids are engaged in the preparation of their own healthy lunch, they become more involved and are more likely to eat it,” said Cornwall.
For more information on how to keep your child healthy and active, visit www.kp.org