As summer winds down, millions of children nationwide are gearing up to head back to school. As parents, it is important to stay involved in your child’s nutrition. But with busy schedules, the easiest choice is not always the healthiest choice. Eating a nutritious lunch is key to forming healthy habits and maintaining energy levels. Developing good eating habits lessens risk of childhood obesity—a rising epidemic in America. Check out these tips as you prepare for back-to-school.
- Packing lunches is the best way to ensure your child eats a balanced meal. They may turn up their nose at your attempt to include fruits and vegetables, but by involving them in the decision-making process, you increase the likelihood that they will accept their meal plan and make sure you are including foods they would eat.
- Getting your child to eat healthy foods is easier said than done. Find out what healthy foods they will actually eat and put these options into a rotation.
- Avoid packing sugar-loaded juice and soda. The best beverage of choice would be water to ensure your child stays hydrated. If they prefer something sweet, look for flavored water options at the grocery store as a compromise.
- Review the lunch menu that is offered through your child’s school. The United States Department of Agriculture has a set of guidelines for school lunches, which helps ensure the nutritional value of school-provided meals.
- Follow the snack and lunch guidelines set by your child’s school. Many of these guidelines are set to ensure that children are eating nutritious foods and to avoid bringing food that a classmate may be allergic to. If your child has food allergies, it is imperative to notify their school ahead of time.
- Practice what you preach. If your children see you making the same lunch for yourself, or eating healthy inside the home, they will be more likely to follow your lead.
- Presentation is one way to make healthy foods more inviting. If you have the time, cut sandwiches into shapes, make faces out of fruit or use a fun lunchbox and containers.
- Prepare single-serving items ahead of time. For example, buy a big bag of carrots at the grocery store and separate them into multiple, pre-packaged servings at the beginning of the week to allow for quicker packing as the week gets busy.
What makes a lunch nutritious? Follow these tips to help you pack healthier.
- Make sure your child gets at least one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables. Finger foods such as apple slices, carrots and celery are good options.
- Include dairy with fat-free or low-fat yogurt or string cheese.
- Use whole grains when making sandwiches.
- Add a protein such as low-sodium deli meat.
- Avoid chips, cookies or candies—many schools do not allow these items.
Before this school year begins, engage with your child about nutrition including healthy food choices, portion sizes and how nutrition affects overall health to get them on-board with better lunches.