Lessons on the Lunch Box

By Susan B Latham, M.S.,R.D., clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

September not only marks the beginning of school but also makes us think about planning meals and getting more organized. A refresher in nutrition can help make sure the kids are getting the best.

Families are busy and time is a precious commodity so a little planning can go a long way concerning meals for the school age child. Parents should look beyond a single meal to ensure that children are given healthy choices all day. If the child doesn’t eat (at one meal) healthy snacks later on can make up for it. Most families know the basics of a nutritious diet: whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy foods and of course lots of vegetables and fruits.

Important tips for smarter eating:

1.  Don’t skip breakfast. Studies show that kids that eat breakfast do better in school, get better grades, are absent less and have better focus on school. The older the kids get, the less time they seem to have for breakfast. Some ideas for quick healthy breakfast are:

– Fruit smoothie made with fresh/frozen fruit, milk/yogurt/small amount of 100% fruit juice

– Whole grain cereal/ oatmeal with fresh fruit and low fat milk

– Peanut butter on whole grain toast and fruit

2. Limit consumption of juice to 4-6 OZ for younger kids and 8-10 OZ for older kids. Too much juice can lead to obesity in children. It is much better for children to eat their fruit rather than drink it. Primary beverages should be water and recommended amount of milk.

3. Don’t forget protein. Protein is an important part of a child’s diet as it is important for growth and helps curb their appetite. Good sources of protein are: low-fat yogurt, string cheese, hard- boiled eggs. These are easy things to put in the lunch box for meal or snacks.

4. Don’t resist what a child might choose for a packed lunch. As long as there is a protein a fruit and vegetable and milk or yogurt the most important ingredients are there. Taking children to the grocery store can be a good learning experience for them in making decisions on what to buy as it relates to good health.

5. Review the school lunch menu with your children and make decisions together on what lunches might be healthy to buy at school. This can be an education process for your child as well as yourself.

6. Try to serve whole foods at home rather that processed foods. You can ease into this gradually if it is a huge change for the family.  Healthy eating is a gift you can gift you can give your family, which will last generations!

7. Don’t forget family dinners. Studies show that children who have family dinners are less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors.

8. Above all, adults need to set a good example. Children will follow the example of their parents, eventually.

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