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Tips for healthy school lunches

NEWARK – Back to school brown-bagging can easily mean healthy lunches and snacks for kids (and adults!). Nutritious meals and snacks will help kids stay healthy, reducing their risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other serious chronic diseases. Kids who have healthy eating patterns are more likely to preform better academically.

For a healthier packed lunch, follow these four nutrition guidelines: focus on whole grains, send more fruits & vegetables, reduce sodium (salt), and choose Smart Snacks.

Don’t have time to pack? You have the power to encourage your children to build a healthy plate at school and home. Review the school menu with your kids and encourage them to choose the healthy foods offered.

• Whole Grain Goodness: Whole grains give kids B vitamins, minerals, and fiber to help them feel full longer so they stay alert to concentrate at school. In general, most family members need to eat about 6_ 8 ounces of grains daily, such as bread, cereal, rice, pasta, and tortillas. Younger kids (age 8 or less) need a little less – about 3_ 5 ounces. Choose bread, cereal, tortillas, and pasta listed as “100% Whole Grain” or “100% Whole Wheat” on the package.

• Add More Fruits and Vegetables:

Kids eat more fruits and vegetables when more fruits and vegetables are offered. A recent Harvard study reported that, under the updated standards for school meals, kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch. Pack colorful veggies for a fun and crunchy lunch and choose in-season vegetables at a lower cost. Rinse fruits & veggies before eating or choose fast and easy-to-pack fruit, like bananas and oranges, in your child’s lunch.

• Reduce Sodium (salt):

When children regularly taste salty foods, they learn to prefer these salty flavors more and more. Serving foods lower in sodium can help children learn to like and enjoy foods with a less salty taste. When buying foods, choose no salt added, low-sodium, or reduced-sodium versions, and prepare foods without adding salt. Use herbs or no-salt spice mixes, drain and rinse canned, precooked beans and vegetables to remove even more sodium and choose low-sodium condiments.

• Choose Smart Snacks at School:

All foods sold at schools during the school day are required to meet USDA nutrition standards. The Smart Snacks in School regulation applies to foods sold a la carte, in the school store, vending machines, and any other venues where food is sold to students. Keep in mind – more than a quarter of kids’ daily calories may come from snacks. Kids who have healthy eating patterns are more likely to perform better academically. Fruits, veggies, and water with no added ingredients are always Smart Snacks. Granola bars that list its first ingredient as a whole grain is also considered a Smart Snack. Aim for a snack containing 200 calories or less.

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