What Are Your Kids Having for Lunch?
How to help your children eat healthy at school
All this is despite the fact that poor eating habits in children not only
contribute to childhood obesity but also may increase the risk that they will
develop certain chronic diseases as adults, experts say. The prevalence of
childhood obesity in the U.S. has doubled since the 1970s.
What's a Parent to Do?
Much as you might like to, you can't follow your children around school all
day to make sure they're choosing healthy foods. So what's a parent to do?
McAllister, of course, thinks bringing lunch from home is the best
alternative. Not only does this let you decide what they have for lunch, but it
also helps keep them away from the vending machines.
"There's no guarantee what the kids will use their lunch money for once
they get to school," she says. "You have no control over where that
money goes once they leave home."
It's important for kids to have choices, though, she says. So before you
pack their lunches or hit the grocery story, ask them what they want: What kind
of fruit would they prefer? Which vegetable? What kind of dip? (Kids love to
dip, she says; chop broccoli into bite-size pieces and add a container of
fat-free dip, and your kids might actually eat their veggies.)
This doesn't mean junk food is an option. "Let the kids have tons of
choices, but make sure they're good choices," McAllister says. "A
choice between a Ho-Ho and a Ding-Dong is not a choice."
Try to include the five food groups in every lunch, McAllister says:
protein, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and calcium-rich foods. "Kids
don't have a lot of time to eat," she says. "You need to get the most
nutrition into them in the least amount of time as possible."
And skip the cookies or other sweets. "Dessert is a treat, not a
staple," McAllister says.
If bringing lunch to school isn't considered "cool" among your
children's friends, make sure your children get to select their own lunch bags
-- whether it's a trendy lunch box with their favorite celebrity or action
figure, or an attractive insulated bag that looks more like a fashion accessory
than a lunch carrier.
If your children want to buy their lunch at school, encourage them to choose
the salad bar, if that's an option, says McAllister. Lean ham, shredded cheese,
fruits, and vegetables are good choices, she says.
Avoid Brown-Bag Boredom
If you run out of fresh ideas for brown-bag lunches, here are a few
suggested by Jody Villecco, Whole Foods Market's top nutritionist, and Jyl
Steinbeck, author of 10 cookbooks for healthy living, including the upcoming
Busy Mom's Make It Quick Cookbook:
- Mozzarella cheese sticks with baked tortilla chips, a container of salsa,
and orange segments
- Fruit, cheese, and meat kabobs: Alternately thread turkey (or other low-fat
meat), cheese cubes, bell pepper, and pineapple chunks on Popsicle sticks.
- Yogurt parfait: A 6-8 oz. container of low-fat yogurt, a snack pack of
low-sugar, high-fiber cereal, berries, grapes, apple slices, and/or banana
- A low-fat tortilla spread with low-fat cream cheese, sprinkled with
shredded carrots and raisins.
- A pita pocket stuffed with lunchtime favorites like tuna, turkey and/or
cheese, and chopped vegetables (or with peanut butter and jelly).
- Cinnamon-raisin pita bread stuffed with cream cheese and grated
- Whole-wheat bread with peanut butter, banana, and chopped dates.
- A hollowed-out red or green pepper stuffed with tuna salad.
- A hollowed apple filled with a mixture of farmer cheese, granola, and
- Scooped-out dinner rolls filled with tuna or egg salad.