Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Packing a School Lunch - The Healthy Way!

The start of a new school year signals many exciting things to come, but it also means another year of packing lunches. Sigh. . .

Coming up with something to put into your child’s empty lunchbox can be a daunting task, especially late on a school night. Packing something that’s both healthy and enjoyable for your child can feel impossible. But there are quick and easy options, other than pre-packaged products like a Lunchable or bag of chips. Here are some ideas for putting together a nutritious – and delicious – lunch for your child.

Base your child’s lunch around low-fat whole grain products such as whole wheat bread, bagels, pita pockets, tortillas, and crackers. Check the label to ensure they contain plenty of fiber: at least 2 to 3 grams per slice of bread or bagel, or 3 to 5 grams per serving.

Lean sources of protein complement whole grains well. Choose fresh, natural lean meats and skinless poultry breast. If you buy packaged varieties, choose those with less than or equal to 20% of the daily value for sodium (480 mg) and “natural” types with minimal processing and preservatives; buy the lower-sodium options. Water-packed, low-sodium tuna (chunk light is lowest in mercury), salmon canned in water, and hummus are also healthy choices. Use natural, reduced-fat/light cheeses sparingly, including reduced-fat plain or flavored cream cheese. Slices of reduced-fat/light natural cheese are easy and typically a favorite of kids. Low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese are additional child-pleasing options. Hard-boiled eggs, unsalted nuts, and natural, lower-sodium nut butters (with no added sugar) in moderate amounts are good sources of protein, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals.

Include at least one type of fruit that your child enjoys. Fresh fruit is the best option and quick and easy to pack. However, add variety once in a while and throw in dried fruit (something other than a box of raisins every time), unsweetened applesauce, or fruit canned in water, juice, or light or extra-light syrup.

Be creative when it comes to packing vegetables, if you expect your child to eat them. Get him involved and ask him what he would enjoy. Be vigilant about it and always send veggies – and highly encourage your child to eat them. Here are some ideas:

·    Send lettuce or spinach leaves and sliced tomatoes for sandwiches, pitas, and wraps; include any other vegetables your child might eat as a topping: avocado, olives, fresh mushrooms, bell peppers, cucumber slices, or roasted red peppers. Store veggies separate from the sandwich to avoid sogginess.
·       Throw in fresh vegetables and vegetable sticks with hummus or a low-fat dip or salad dressing that your child enjoys, such as ranch. In addition to old favorites, try new ones including jicama sticks, fresh snap peas, miniature tomatoes (grape, cherry, or plum), bell pepper strips (red, green, yellow and/or orange), or baby corn.

·       Pack celery and/or carrot sticks (or baby carrots) with reduced-fat plain cream cheese or natural peanut or other nut butter (containing no added sugar and ≤ 50 mg of sodium per serving) and raisins.

·       Send low-fat, reduced-sodium vegetable soup in an insulated thermos so it will stay warm.
  •  Include a can of low-sodium vegetable juice.
·       Make a tossed salad with new and unique salad greens and veggies that your child enjoys, as well as lean meat/poultry, whole beans (kidney, garbanzo, etc.), reduced-fat natural cheese, hard-boiled egg, avocado, and nuts or seeds – even chopped fresh or dried fruit. Be sure to include her favorite low-fat/light salad dressing (packed separately).

·       Prepare vegetable quesadillas (try chopped broccoli and carrots) with a light amount of reduced-fat natural cheese on whole grain tortillas - kids love these and don't even realize they are eating vegetables! Serve them for dinner and then send an extra one for lunch the next day; they are just as delicious cold!

·       Tell your child that she needs to eat all of the vegetables in her lunch before eating any treats or items she especially enjoys. This will work when they are younger, and although it may not work when they are older, it encourages vegetable consumption.
Plain water is the best beverage choice. If your child consistently comes up short on his dairy/calcium intake, 1 cup (8 ounces) of low-fat (1%) or non-fat/skim white milk may be appropriate. Because it is high in sugar and calories – yet low in nutrients – pack 100% fruit juice occasionally only. Avoid sending items like soda, lemonade, fruit punch, and other fruit drinks which all contain a lot of sugar and calories but have no nutritional value.

Limit highly-processed foods such as pre-packaged lunches or lunch items (e.g. Lunchables), American cheese slices, chips, cookies, soda, pre-packaged fruit beverages, and so on. These are generally very unhealthy; they tend to be loaded with calories, sugar, fat, salt, and preservatives, but provide very little nutrition.

Ensure Your Child Will Eat the Healthy Lunch
·       Include your child in the entire lunch-making process. Begin by letting her pick out his lunchbox at the beginning of the year. Involve him in planning his lunches and in the grocery shopping – from writing the list to actually going shopping and picking out lunch items. Have him help prepare his lunch, as well as actually pack the lunch.

·      Think outside the lunchbox and get creative. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different. Ask your child what sounds good, fun, new to her - you might be surprised. When packing a lunch is your daily task, it’s very easy to get stuck in a rut, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to do it. But kids can quickly tire of the “same old-same old” day after day . . . after day. Learn to add variety – do something fun and different.

·       Use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches – and other items, as appropriate – into fun shapes that your child will enjoy.

·       Purchase a cookbook about packing healthy lunches – there are plenty available on the market and they’ll give you new ideas that your children will love.

·       Don’t forget an occasional special treat from you, whether it be a note, a sticker, or a cookie wrapped with colored plastic wrap and tied with a bow.  

For more details about packing a healthy lunch for your child this year, refer to Keeley's book, The Poisoning of Our Children | Fighting the Obesity Epidemic in America. Find out more at: PoisoningOurChildren.com.
Copyright © 2013 Keeley Drotz, RD ~ TGBG Nutrition. All rights reserved.
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The Purpose of TGBG Nutrition

TGBG stands for "To God be the Glory." The purpose of TGBG Nutrition is to bring glory to God by helping families improve their nutritional status and fitness level, thus improving their overall health and well-being.

Keeley's specialization is working with children and
their families, specifically regarding weight issues. A mother herself, she is passionate about fighting the epidemic of obesity plaguing our country, especially among children and adolescents. This website it meant to be a supplement to her book, The Poisoning of Our Children ~ Fighting the Obesity Epidemic in America (PoisoningOurChildren.com), and to provide families with the practical tools they need to pursue and implement a healthier lifestyle.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31