Updated: September 22, 2013 6:17AM
It’s that time of year again. Days are getting shorter, shopping malls are packed, and the smell of newly-sharpened pencils fills the air.
The new school year is about to begin! As parents rejoice in seeing their children off to the schoolyard, they may also be concerned about what their children will be eating during the day.
By now, we are all aware of the epidemic of childhood obesity troubling our nation. What can thoughtful parents do to make sure their children are eating right?
While the school cafeteria may provide a well-balanced, nutritious option, today’s kids are also faced with vending machines and a la carte selections like pizza, hamburgers, and ice cream.
A tasty, well-planned packed lunch may be a good alternative for your health-conscious or finicky-eaters.
The purpose of the mid-day meal is to sustain kids through afternoon classes and activities. It is difficult for growing boys and girls to go 2-3 hours without refueling.
Just like cars, bodies and minds running on empty will sputter and breakdown before reaching the destination. Cars and people need proper fill-ups in order to run at full capacity.
The trick is refueling our bodies with a well-balanced variety of foods that will keep us feeling full throughout the day.
Food group choices
What kind of variety do we need? Different foods are like different fuels, providing us with different nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
To make sure we a meeting our needs, lunch should provide a variety of foods from the different food groups.
Let your child come up with a list of favorite foods in each food group. Make sure food items will be compatible with lunch-storage facilities at school (i.e., that proper refrigeration is available if necessary). Buy and have available the items on the list.
When packing a well-balanced lunch, choose or have your child choose items from at least three to four groups on the list. For example:
Protein sources: lean lunch meats (turkey, ham, roast beef), tuna, legumes/beans (chick peas, chili with beans), peanut butter, nuts.
Grains: whole-wheat bread, pita bread, half of a bagel, English muffin (who said they were only for breakfast?), whole-grain crackers, rice.
Dairy: 1 percent or non-fat milk, low-fat chocolate milk, yogurt (plain or fruit-flavored), low fat cheeses.
Fruits: bananas, apples, grapes (not fruit roll-ups).
Vegetables: baby carrots, grape tomatoes, broccoli spears, salad fix-ins.
Another option that may work well with younger children is to give the child specific choices from the food groups. Would you like green pepper strips or baby carrots with your (low-fat) dip? Apple or orange slices? Provide the healthful selection and let the child choose what he or she will eat.
Let’s face it. In a world of cupcakes and French fries, a lunch of carrot sticks might not be the most glamorous attraction that we’d hope. How can you make sure your child won’t trade or throw out his or her carefully-packed nutritious lunch?
Try the 80-20 Rule. Eighty percent healthful, 20 percent fun.
A cookie, a small piece of candy — these aren’t bad foods. But in excess they can have bad consequences.
By occasionally adding such treats into the lunch bag, children learn the value of portion size and the idea of “everyday” and “not-all-the-time” foods. The important lunch lesson is in giving your child the skills and ability to choose wisely and to respect his or her body.
With this in mind, lunchtime can be an enjoyable and healthful part of the school day.