Right in the middle of a child’s busy day of work and play is an opportunity to foster the child’s well-being – and provide a hands-on nutrition lesson – with a healthful meal.
School lunches made from home provide at least one-third of most kids’ calories for the day and can boost their intake of key nutrients. Kids also perform better academically and in extracurricular activities when their lunches are wholesome. Building these habits now with your kids can promote good health now and in the future.
Often, lunches prepared for kids fall short of their potentials. Instead of contributing to the health and well-being of kids, the lunches put kids at higher risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic disease, while teaching kids nothing about smart food choices. Rather than serve meals high in saturated fats and cholesterol and low in essential nutrients and fiber, why not opt for low-fat, low-cholesterol, high fiber and nutrient-rich meals?
Here are some ideas for school lunch additions: fresh vegetables and fresh and dried fruits, whole grain bread, and legumes – such as a black bean or hummus spread. Try experimenting with a variety of foods that are high in different nutrients. Options could be 100 percent fruit juice, fresh water, and calcium-rich, non-dairy milk alternatives, like fortified juices, soy milk, or rice milk.
Other selections include foods that are high in fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants; low-fat vegetarian and vegan entrees; low-fat versions of condiments and deli-meats; and healthful snacks such as yogurts, veggies and dip, air-popped popcorn, and baked snacks.
Lunch attributes to avoid include high levels of sugar, salt, and calories; foods that have been refined; fried foods; and sodas and other soft drinks.
To better prepare school lunches your child will enjoy, talk with your child about what he or she likes or doesn’t like about lunch. Talk in terms that make sense to your child and discuss why healthy lunches are the best option – he or she will perform better in sports, do better on tests, and feel better in afternoon classes, for example.
One way to reinforce the importance of healthy lunch eating would be to make efforts to serve healthy food at home for breakfasts, after school snacks, and dinners. Make healthy eating an overall habit for your child and why not even try eating well yourself so that you can be a good role model!
Krista Bloomquist is the interim general manager at the Chequamegon Food Co-op.