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|Power Lunches Aren't Just for Parents
|by William Stratbucker, MD on 09/03/2010 at 10:31 AM
Registered dietitian Erin Webley is a specialty dietitian educator with the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital Healthy Weight Center. She is our guest blogger this week.
Eating a healthy lunch refuels your child's body and will help him or her stay more focused and energized throughout the afternoon. So what's better-a school lunch or one you pack at home?
Although meals provided at schools can offer good nutrition, it can be harder for children to make healthy choices at school. For instance, many school lunches are highly processed and are pre-packaged in large serving sizes. Additionally, many a la carte items available are high in fat and sugar-laden. These are just some of the reasons why I advocate for packing your child's lunch.
A packed lunch is more likely to appeal to your child's individual tastes, be more balanced and have appropriate serving sizes as opposed to the limited options available at school. But it's important to remember that just packing a lunch itself is no guarantee that it will be better.
Always think balance when preparing meals and snacks for your child. Include foods from at least three of the food groups, making sure to always include a veggie and/or fruit. Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lowfat dairy and lean protein have vitamins and nutrients that help children feel their best. With beverages, I recommend offering water first, although low-calorie flavored water is okay sometimes, too. Low-fat milk is another good option. Always avoid pop, juice and drink boxes.
I find the best way to establish a routine of packing your child's lunch is to simply make a list of foods and meals your child likes that are also healthy so you know what to buy and prepare. Here are some good-tasting and healthy options to get you started:
- Pack one serving of whole grain crackers, 3-4 tablespoons of hummus, and sliced veggies to dip. Fruit and low-fat milk can be purchased at school and will round out this lunch.
- Pack one serving of baked tortilla chips, salsa, a quarter cup low-fat cheese, black beans and salad greens. Include a large, empty container and your child can mix all together for a yummy taco salad.
- Wrap low-fat string cheese in lean lunch meat, then cut in half. Serve with whole grain crackers and a small can of low sodium vegetable juice to drink.
- Add fruit (canned in light syrup or fresh) to low fat yogurt or cottage cheese. Add whole grain cereal or nuts for more crunch.
- If your child is tired of regular bread for sandwiches, try other whole grain varieties like pitas, flatbreads, wraps, crackers and small bagels. Be sure to go light on the mayo and add veggies whenever possible for a balanced meal.
- Make a healthy dip by mixing ranch powder into fat free sour cream or low-fat Greek yogurt.
- Fill a thermos with soup, casseroles or other stew-like leftovers. Always keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold to avoid the risk of food borne illness.
Once you have your ideas, find a variety of good, reusable containers and have been grocery shopping, you are ready to start packing. Here are some time-saving tips that will help make the process simple and quick:
- Plan ahead and start simple. In general, packing a lunch should take less than 10 minutes. Start simple with two to three menu ideas, then rotate through them for a of couple weeks. Add more recipes as you get more comfortable with the new routine.
- Involve your child in the process. Have your child pre-pack his or her napkins, silverware, or other meal items. Younger children can count out finger foods and pre-pack them in containers or plastic bags.
- Portion out a week's worth of daily servings for non-refrigerated items like crackers, dry cereal and nuts.
- Cut vegetables and store them water for the week to help them stay fresh. You can then quickly grab and pack some each morning.
- Portion out leftovers for lunch while you are serving dinner.
- Freeze leftover casseroles, soups and other foods. It then is easy to thaw them out, heat and pack them in a thermos in the morning during breakfast (make sure to heat hot foods thoroughly before packing).
One important note on portion control: As a registered dietitian, I see firsthand many children who are struggling with obesity issues, and I think it is important to know that even children who eat healthy can become obese-it is simply a matter of consuming too much food. So, please also be aware not only of the quality of the food you are serving your child, but the portion size as well.
Getting in the habit of packing healthy lunches for your may take a little time, but the rewards for you and your child will be worth it. Start with simple choices and don't be afraid to be creative.
- Erin Webley, RD