All of the activities children take part in during a typical day at school – using both brain power and muscle power – can use up a lot of energy. It’s up to you to ensure that your kids are refueling their bodies each and every day. It only takes a few minutes, and a little creativity, to gather up ingredients for a healthier brown bag lunch.
Healthy Choices Start at Home
Even before kids start going to school, they’re learning about food every day – through their parents.
“Children learn at very young age about eating habits,” explains family medicine physician, John Howard, MD. “If parents eat well and instill good eating habits in their children, they tend to carry those habits with them throughout their lives.”
Be a role model – choose healthier snacks for yourself such as whole-grain granola bars over icing-covered snack cakes, or pretzels instead of potato chips. Kids mimic your behavior whether you realize they’re watching or not.
Kids may be more likely to eat a lunch they helped to pack, so involve them in selecting items at the store or the farmer’s market. Try making a game out of how many colors of the rainbow they can include: green lettuce on a sandwich, a red apple, and orange carrots.
While giving kids a say in their lunch food choices is important, keep in mind that the options they choose from should ultimately be decided upon by an adult.
What Goes Into a Healthy Lunch?
(And What Should Stay Out)
Most of the time, foods found around the edges of a grocery store make for the healthiest choices. Think of items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, and low-fat dairy products. When weighing
your lunch food choices, focus on fresh instead of pre-packaged options.
“Foods that are less processed have fewer preservatives and less sodium,” said Dr. Howard.
And even though juice boxes are convenient, you may want to think twice about adding them to your child’s lunch. Encourage kids to buy low-fat or skim milk at school or send a thermos of cold water.
“Remember, even if a fruit juice is all-natural, it is essentially concentrating the amount of sugar in eight to 10 pieces of fruit,” advises Dr. Howard.
Earn an A+ with These Healthy Lunch Ideas
- Liven up a plain old peanut butter and jelly sandwich by cutting the bread into fun shapes
- Toss sliced apples or berries on top of low-fat plain yogurt
- Put a slice of low-fat or fat-free cheese on whole-grain crackers
- Make a whole-wheat pita pocket with hummus, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber
- Pop some low-fat popcorn
- Put a refreshing twist on chicken salad by adding grapes and walnuts
- Dip sweet pepper slices, celery, or carrots in fresh salsa or hummus