It’s that time of year again where we celebrate “National School Lunch Week” from October 10-14. Good nutrition begins with the involvement of the entire family. Research supports that what the family consumes at mealtimes relates to the nutritional adequacy of a child’s diet. When meals are eaten together, children are more likely to consume a nutrient-rich diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products and a decreased intake of fried foods and sweets.
Planning and preparing meals appear to be the most challenging for parents. Ways in which the family can intervene to make health a priority is through meal planning and preparation, food shopping, and eating together most nights of the week. At times, eating healthy can be challenging for kids because many of the recommended foods seem unappealing – fat free milk, whole grains, and plain yogurt. This is where sweeteners come into play. Added sugars can play a valuable role in getting your kids to eat healthy foods such as flavored oatmeal, low-fat chocolate milk, whole grain cookies, and pudding.
Brown Bagging It
For lunch, aim for 3-4 food groups, protein being one, to provide your child with long-lasting energy and stabilized blood sugars to help carry them throughout the afternoon hours at school. Some examples include:
Turkey, hummus, and cheese wrapped in a whole grain tortilla served with a salad in a bag and lite ranch dressing and a carton of low-fat chocolate milk to drink for its calcium and vitamin D combo for strong bones and healthy teeth.
Leftovers! Mac and cheese with broccoli made with a mixture of whole grain and white pasta noodles. Pack a 100% frozen fruit juice box and DHA-fortified fruit yogurt for a brain boost.
Leftover veggie and cheese pizza with a single serving snack pack size of baked chips and bottled water.
Snacks for School
Smart snacking helps maintain energy levels and prevents your child from overeating at meals. Go for that powerful carbohydrate-protein mix for sustained energy such as:
Apple slices dipped in peanut butter and caramel sauce.
Homemade trail mix: whole grain sweetened cereal, dried fruit, almonds, and a few dark chocolate chips or M&Ms.;
2 small whole grain cookies with an 8-ounce glass of low-fat milk.
Baby carrots, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, and a few pita wedges dipped in hummus.
Pudding cup with a banana.
Make your own smoothie with fruit, yogurt, and a squirt of chocolate syrup.
With these recommendations, families will be on track towards nutritious and delicious eating. My motto for fueling is “80-20” in that 80% of the time, choose nutrient-rich foods offering an array of vitamins and minerals and for the remainder, enjoy foods with added sugars. Living a healthy lifestyle comes down to balance, moderation, and variety. For additional information about the National School Lunch Week, check out www.schoolnutrition.org/Level2_NSLW2011.aspx?id=15284.
Disclosure: Chrissy Barth is a member of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) RD panel.