Nutrition has become a hotly debated topic over the last decade. The alarming rate of increasing childhood obesity and diabetes diagnoses has led parents and educators to take a second look at children’s diets. School lunches are promoted as being nutritious and well-balanced, but the items served on meal trays are often lacking or devoid of any nutritional value. Unhealthy foods are commonly provided such as fried meat patties and French fries, and the supply of fruits and vegetables usually comes from cans. Canning removes almost all of the valuable water-soluble vitamins leaving the fruits and vegetables with little or no nutritional value.
School lunch programs are driven by a goal to provide a high number of calories to make up for a hypothetical decreased availability of food in lower-income households. On the contrary, a recent study that was released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in August, 2013 revealed that the rate of preschool child obesity in low-income U.S. households has doubled in recent decades. Parents can help stop the unhealthy trend by avoiding meals provided by the school and sending their children off with well-planned healthy lunches and snacks.
Children are more likely to eat healthy foods that are attractive as well as delicious. Fruits and vegetables can be cut into fun shapes with a miniature cookie cutter and sandwiches can be made into bite-sized shapes that are smaller and more appealing. Fun creations such as “ants on a log” are easy to make and fun to eat. Many companies market healthy, kid-portioned varieties of healthy foods. Yogurt producers often sell their products in smaller portions with appealing packages, though some of the options include candy bits and other unhealthy additives. Providing variety of healthy foods from week to week will help keep children interested in nutritious lunches from home.
Following are a few ideas of nutritious foods that can be interchanged to maintain variety:
low-fat cheese slices
whole wheat bread
whole wheat crackers
sliced green peppers
You might be concerned about packing a lunch for your child since no refrigeration is provided up until lunch time. Because of this, certain foods such as meat and yogurt may start to spoil before your child has a chance to eat them. When you make the commitment to begin packing your child or children’s lunch every day, you might want to invest in a small cooler or insulated lunch pack for each child. You can fill these with ice bags or cold packs to keep the food from spoiling before lunchtime.
Many families are choosing to reduce or eliminate meat from their diets for both health and environmental reasons. Healthy complete proteins from meatless sources can be added to children’s lunches by choosing food items such as beans, rice and peanut butter. One of the healthiest and most efficient foods a human can eat is quinoa. The kids didn’t quite know what to make of this when I first introduced it, so I started out by cooking it as a side dish with dinner a few times. Eventually the whole family started asking for it. I have since come up with a recipe for cold bean and quinoa salad which I have been making on a weekly basis for school and work lunches. Just a small serving of this provides enough vitamins and complete proteins to last until dinner.
If your child is reluctant to take his or her own lunch to school, you can inspire a sense of enjoyment by turning the idea into something fun. Start by taking your child along to pick out a lunch box that displays a favorite character. Ice packs shaped like ladybugs, baseballs and princess crowns can also be found at retail stores. The best way to get children excited about packed lunches is the lunch itself. Along with healthy representations of all the food groups, don’t forget to pack something fun like all-natural fruit leather or gelatin snacks for dessert. Encouraging healthy habits is essential for fostering children’s appreciation for living a life focused on wellness and good nutrition.
I’m Beth, a southern girl, the mother of two rambunctious children, a blogger on health and fitness, and a freelance writer for medical companies such as Liberty Medical. My blog is a guide through mine and my family’s efforts to live a healthier life.