How to Make a Healthy School Lunch

By Monika Frauzem, dietetic technician, registered at CHOC Children’s

It’s back to school time and that means thinking about lunches to go! Lunch provides nutrition for your child’s school day. A good nutritional foundation will support learning and deliver the energy needed for play time. The good news is that preparing school lunches does not have to be a chore! You can make this quality time spent with your child and a positive learning experience.

Here are some things to think about when planning lunches and meals:

  1. Get informed

The MyPlate model designed by the United States Department of Agriculture shows the ideal balance of nutrients you should strive for at every meal. Which food group some of your favorite foods fit into might surprise you.

nutrition
The MyPlate model shows a great visual way to balance our food groups.

2.) Get inspired 

The CHOC Children’s Kids Health blog is filled with healthy and fun recipes that are sure to please kids and parents alike.

3.) Get organized

  • Include meal planning into your weekly schedule. Sit down with your child and agree on a time that will work for everybody involved. CHOC offers healthy meal prep tips for busy parents.
  • Create a menu for the week and make a grocery list.
  • Create a menu for the week and make a grocery list.
  • Create a master list of lunch options to use if time is limited or life gets in your way.
  • Get containers in various sizes and make sure containers are easy to open—especially for younger children. Consider the environment, and remember that reusable containers are better for the environment and cheaper in the long run. There are many innovative options available.
  • Buy produce that is in season in bulk—it’s good for your budget and your body!
  • Create snack stations in the fridge and pantry for easy access for hungry kids after school and when you are in a hurry assembling lunches.

4.) Include your child in the process

When creating meals, it is important to include all food groups. It will help your child feel full longer and have the energy they need to say alert throughout the day. The main idea is to combine protein, complex carbohydrates (such as grains), fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Variety is the key. Remember: Have your child help! If your child participates, he or she is more likely to eat their lunch.

healthy school lunch
Eating a healthy school lunch can help your child have the energy she needs to power through the school day.

What Nutrients Does My Child Need?

Protein – Growing children need protein because it is an important component for bones, skin and muscles. Foods that are good sources of protein include: cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, yogurt, string cheese, turkey or chicken for wraps or roll ups, eggs (such as hard-boiled eggs or egg salad), tuna- or salmon salad, peanut or other nut butters, tofu, edamame, beans, lentils and hummus.

Grain – Grain provides carbohydrates, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Read labels and choose 100 percent whole grains when possible. Carbohydrates give your children the energy they need to learn and play. Read labels to limit the amount of added sugar and unhealthy fats. Healthy grain options include: whole-grain bread, flatbread, pita pockets, bagels, tortillas or English muffins; crackers, pretzels, cracker bread and rice cakes; cooked brown rice, barley, couscous and quinoa; granola bars; whole grain cereals.

Vegetables – Vegetables are a good source of carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins and fiber. You may include a dip such as low-fat salad dressing, bean dip or hummus. Try to get a variety of colored vegetables as these provide different nutrients. Some options include: broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, jicama, sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, beets, bell peppers, corn, cucumber, tomatoes and spinach

Fruit – Fruit is a good source of carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins and fiber. Just like with vegetables, serve a variety from all the color groups because they contain different vitamins and minerals. Some ideas include: olive oil, vegetable oils, canola and sunflower oil, avocado, cheese, nuts, sour cream, butter, mayonnaise and salad dressings

Sending your child to school with a nutritious lunch can be a rewarding experience for everyone! With a little planning and organization, it doesn’t need to be a hassle. Pack lunches the night before so they are ready to go before the morning rush.

Include your child in the process. There may be times when they want the same lunch multiple days in a row and times when their taste changes. Just offer a variety of foods and options during the other meals of the day.

Remember: the lunch your child takes to school should be one they will actually eat and not one you want them to eat.

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Back to School with Healthy Lunches

By: Sarah Kavlich, RD, CLEC, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

As summer comes to a close and the school year kicks into gear, it’s time to establish a routine that works for you and your family. This includes ensuring your child eats nutritious foods that keep him or her healthy and full of energy.

In recent years there has been much discussion about the foods served to children as part of the school lunch program. In order to guarantee that your child is fed a meal that is full of nutrients, flavor, and color, try taking matters into your own hands by sending your child to school with a lunch prepared especially by you.  Preparing lunches yourself does take extra time but the end result is well worth the effort. Start by making a meal plan for the week to help you stay on track. Cook in bulk whenever possible to save time. Try using the MyPlate method as your guide. 

 

Some things to consider when packing a lunch: 

  • Aim for variety each day to avoid taste fatigue.
  • Ensure that the packed lunch is stored at a proper temperature by using ice packs and an insulated lunch box or bag to keep food cold.
  • Determine whether there is access to a microwave to reheat food to a safe temperature, before packing hot foods.

Begin by choosing the vegetable portion of the meal. A salad that uses a sturdy leafy green like kale as your lettuce will hold up well even when prepared and mixed with dressing the morning of or even the night before. Next, choose a fruit (fresh, frozen, or canned in light syrup). Try making fruit kebobs or using a melon baller to make interesting shapes to enhance acceptability with even the pickiest eaters.

Next, choose your whole grain, such as wheat couscous or pasta, brown rice, wheat tortilla, or whole wheat bread. Protein containing foods that travel well include beans, lentils, hummus, tuna or chicken salad, hard boiled eggs, peanut butter, and low sodium lunch meats. Complete the meal with a low fat serving of dairy like light yogurt, cheese, or cottage cheese.

Kale, Broccoli, and Chicken Salad
Try this salad as a go to lunch. Change up the dressing, protein, and add-ins to add variety. Pack some whole grain crackers or a whole wheat tortilla to complete the plate.

Toss together: Cooked chicken cut into bite sized pieces, kale torn into small pieces, broccoli florets, broccoli slaw, thinly sliced brussel sprouts,  chopped tomato, shredded low fat cheese, red onion, dried fruit and nut mix (cranberries and pumpkin seeds), chopped apple, lemon juice, drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

To learn more, check out these helpful resources:
USDA Choose MyPlate.gov – http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center – http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/

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Back-to-School Tips

Back to schoolPicking out backpacks, shopping for clothes, and stocking up on paper and pencils are a tell-tale sign that school is coming. For some, the new school year begins this week. Whether you have a kindergartner or a senior, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following tips to help ensure a terrific school year.

Making the First Day Easier
• Remind your child that there are probably a lot of students who are uneasy about the first day of school. Teachers know that students are anxious and will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible.
• Point out the positive aspects of starting school: It will be fun! She’ll see old friends and meet new ones. Refresh her positive memories about previous years, when she may have returned home after the first day with high spirits because she had a good time.
• Find another child in the neighborhood with whom your child can walk to school or ride on the bus.
• If you feel it is appropriate, drive your child (or walk with her) to school and pick her up on the first day.

Bullying
Bullying can be physical, verbal or social. It can happen at school, on the playground, on the school bus, in the neighborhood, over the Internet, or through mobile devices like cell phones.

If your child is bullied:
• Help your child learn how to respond by teaching your child how to:
1. Look the bully in the eye.
2. Stand tall and stay calm in a difficult situation.
3. Walk away.
• Teach your child how to say in a firm voice:
1. “I don’t like what you are doing.”
2. “Please do not talk to me like that.”
3. “Why would you say that?”
• Teach your child when and how to ask for help.
• Encourage your child to make friends with other children.
• Support activities that interest your child.
• Alert school officials to the problems and work with them on solutions.
• Make sure an adult who knows about the bullying can watch out for your child’s safety and well-being when you cannot be there.
• Monitor your child’s social media or texting interactions so you can identify problems before they get out of hand.

If your child is the bully:
• Be sure your child knows that bullying is never OK.
• Set firm and consistent limits on your child’s aggressive behavior.
• Be a positive role model. Show children they can get what they want without teasing, threatening or hurting someone.
• Use effective, non-physical discipline, such as loss of privileges.
• Develop practical solutions with the school principal, teachers, counselors and parents of the children your child has bullied.

If your child is a bystander:
• Tell your child not to cheer on or even quietly watch bullying.
• Encourage your child to tell a trusted adult about the bullying.
• Help your child support other children who may be bullied. Encourage your child to include these children in activities.
• Encourage your child to join with others in telling bullies to stop.

Developing Good Homework Skills
• Create an environment that is conducive to doing homework. Youngsters need a permanent work space in their bedrooms or another part of the home that is quiet, without distractions, and promotes study.
• Schedule ample time for homework.
• Establish a household rule that the TV set stays off during homework time.
• Supervise computer and Internet use.
• Be available to answer questions and offer assistance, but never do a child’s homework for her.
• Take steps to help alleviate eye fatigue, neck fatigue and brain fatigue while studying. It may be helpful to close the books for a few minutes, stretch, and take a break periodically when it will not be too disruptive.
• If your child is struggling with a particular subject, and you aren’t able to help her yourself, a tutor can be a good solution. Talk it over with your child’s teacher first.
• Some children need help organizing their homework.  Checklists, timers, and parental supervision can help  overcome homework problems.

Related articles:

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Help Your Child Get Organized This School Year

Check out these tips to help your kids stay organized with everyday tasks – including homework! With help and some practice, kids can develop an effective approach to getting stuff done. It’s as easy as 1-2-3!

For kids, all tasks can be broken down into a three-step process – getting organized, staying focused and getting it done. To get started, introduce the 1-2-3 method and help your child practice it in daily life. Even something as simple as brushing teeth requires this approach. Eventually you can apply it to a more complex task, such as a book report.

1. Getting Organized
Explain that this step is all about getting ready. It’s about figuring out what kids need to do and gathering any necessary items.  Help your child make a list of things like: Choose a book. Make sure the book is OK with the teacher. Write down the book and the author’s name. Check the book out of the library. Mark the due date on a calendar.

Then help your child think of the supplies needed: The book, some note cards, a pen for taking notes, the teacher’s list of questions to answer, and a report cover. Have your child gather the supplies where the work will take place.

As the project progresses, show your child how to use the list to check off what’s already done and get ready for what’s next. Demonstrate how to add to the list, too.

2. Staying Focused
Explain that this part is about doing it and sticking with the job. Tell kids this means doing what you’re supposed to do, following what’s on the list, and sticking with it.

It also means focusing when there’s something else your child would rather be doing! While working on the report, a competing idea might pop into your child’s head: “I feel like shooting some hoops now.” Teach kids to challenge that impulse by asking themselves “Is that what I’m supposed to be doing?”

Explain that a tiny break to stretch a little and then get right back to the task at hand is OK. Then kids can make a plan to shoot hoops after the work is done. Let them know that staying focused gets easier with practice.

3. Getting it Done
Explain that this is the part when kids will be finishing up the job. Talk about things like copying work neatly and asking a parent to read it over to help find any mistakes.

Coach your child to take those important final steps: putting his or her name on the report, placing it in a report cover, putting the report in the correct school folder, and putting the folder in the backpack so it’s ready to be turned in.

Once kids know these steps, and how to apply them, they can start tackling tasks more independently. That means chores, and other tasks will get done with increasing consistency and efficiency. Of course, kids will still need guidance, but you probably won’t have to get after them as much. These skills are not only practical, but they will also help your child feel more competent and effective. Kids feel self-confident and proud when they’re able to accomplish their tasks and responsibilities.

For more homework tips, check out our Homework Help Center.

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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.

Related articles:

  • How to Make a Healthy School Lunch
    Brush up on which nutrients your child needs to power them through the school day, and get new ideas for making a healthy school lunch.
  • Back to School with Healthy Lunches
    By: Sarah Kavlich, RD, CLEC, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s As summer comes to a close and the school year kicks into gear, it’s time to establish a routine that works for ...
  • Back-to-School Tips
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