Make the grade this school year with healthy lunchboxes

Published 3:14 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Editor&39;s Note: This Caring for Our Community column from St. Luke&39;s Hospital ran on Tuesday, August 25.Today is a big day for 2,500 children in Polk County. School bells have sounded this morning, signaling the end of summer and the start of the new school year. Once again parents will be faced with the daily task of packing a lunch that will both taste good and provide the needed nutrition and energy. Parents greatly influence what their kids eat so encouraging healthy eating habits is more important now than ever. St. Luke&squo;s Hospital wants to help parents put together a healthy lunch that won&squo;t be traded in the cafeteria.

While most schools offer the option of purchasing a lunch from school, many children opt for the bagged lunch option. According to a survey conducted by the American Dietetic Association, a majority of kids (83 percent) bring their lunch at least one or two times a week and 55 percent of kids &dquo;brown bag it&dquo; up to five times a week.

Packing a lunch at home is one way parents can guarantee their children are eating healthy at school. This is becoming increasingly important as the number of overweight and obese children and adolescents grows each year. According to the American Obesity Association, childhood obesity has more than doubled over the last 25 years and quadrupled among adolescents.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

&dquo;Children consume too many calories and not enough nutrients,&dquo; explains St. Luke&squo;s Hospital&squo;s Dietitian Nancy Chapman. Citing a report released by the Action for Healthy Kids, a nonprofit group that addresses childhood obesity, &dquo;Only two percent of kids consume the recommended number of servings from all food groups.&dquo;

To pack more nutrition into school lunches, Chapman offers the following tips:

Think whole grains and lean meats.&bsp; School lunch sandwiches aren&squo;t limited to bread.&bsp; Consider creative tortilla wraps with whole grains and lean meat.&bsp; Add more flavor and nutrients with shredded low fat cheese and grated vegetables.&bsp; Or, wrap string cheese and dried or fresh fruit in a tortilla wrap for an easy, on-the-go snack.

Skip the cookies and opt for a healthy dessert.&bsp; Mix together low fat flavored yogurt with sliced fresh fruit and sprinkle with low fat granola for a bit of crunch.&bsp; It&squo;s a great way to add more fruit and dairy into a kid&squo;s diet while adding a touch of sweetness.

Choose colorful vegetables.&bsp; In general, colorful vegetables are packed with nutrients.&bsp; Bring kids to the supermarket or farmers market with you and make it a game for them to select the most colorful vegetables for lunch.&bsp; The more children are engaged in selecting their food, the more likely they are to try and enjoy new items in their diet.

An easy and fun way to remember to eat your fruits and vegetables is by thinking of eating the different colors of the rainbow. This will help to introduce a variety of different nutrients and add spice to your child&squo;s diet by trying out new and more exotic fruits and veggies. These colorful foods deliver a healthful dose of vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting phytochemicals. Remember, the darker and more rich the color, usually indicates the more nutrients the fruit or vegetable contains.

Red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables tend to be high in carotenoids, which are known to offer protection against certain cancers, heart disease, and eye problems. The deep hues of fruits like red grapes, oranges, pink grapefruit, strawberries and blueberries signal the presence of flavinoids, which also offer protection against cancers and heart disease.

Cutting back on the sugary, high-fat and high-sodium foods will help keep children healthy and fit. While packaged snacks and sweets are quick, easy fillers for lunchboxes, Chapman, has tips for packing a healthy, tasty lunch in a short time:

&ull;&bsp; Send veggie sticks (use

precut for a time saver) with

dip such as low-fat dressing, peanut butter, veggie dip or


&ull;&bsp; Low-fat cheese cuts (6 grams or less of fat per serving) with crackers provide a healthy alternative to sandwiches.

&ull;&bsp; Choose sliced lean or low-fat brands of lunch meat in place of fatty luncheon meats.

&ull;&bsp; A baggie of low-fat microwave popcorn is a healthier salty snack than potato chips or cheese puffs.

&ull;&bsp; Use some of last night&squo;s leftovers by sending strips of grilled chicken with honey mustard dipping sauce or quesadilla slices with chicken and cheese (or veggies and cheese).

&ull;&bsp; Mini-burritos with rice and beans or meat in a tortilla with salsa can be eaten hot or cold.

&ull;&bsp; A small cup of peanut butter is a perfect dip for apple slices and spread for rice cakes. &bsp;

&dquo;Good nutrition is essential for your child to have a great day at school. Packing a healthy lunch takes a little planning and creativity, but it&squo;s worth it when your child opens their lunch bag and finds something they will actually eat and enjoy&dquo; says Chapman. &dquo;One of the best ways to make sure your kids like their lunches is to let them be in on the planning and packing process. It may take a little longer in the beginning, but they&squo;ll like having a choice and be more apt to eat their food.&dquo;

Packing a lunch for school does not have to be boring. With a little creativity and a lot of love, a packed school lunch can be something a child looks forward to eating. Use school lunches as a chance to steer your kids toward good choices and know that St. Luke&squo;s Hospital is here to provide exceptional care, close to home.