Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Brown Baggin' It - Healthy Lunches for Kids

School lunch programs are getting a healthy makeover due to a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and first lady Michelle Obama's initiative to end childhood obesity. 31 million American kids eat school lunches, so this initiative and the legislation, Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed last January, will help them get more nutritious choices at the lunch counter. But this legislation that limits fats and sodium and increases fruits and veggies will not be fully implemented for two to five years. So what can parents do in the meantime? Can we pack more nutrition in a brown bag than our kids get in the school lunch room?

If you have kids like mine, they would rather pack brown bag lunches than buy lunch at school.  They loved the school lunch program when they were younger, but now they want to make their own lunches. It’s more work, but easier on my budget.  Eating healthier can be a challenge, but here are my favorite tips!

Brown Baggin' It Tips
  • Let kids pack their own lunch. Give guidelines for a healthy lunch menuHealthy lunch choices that include variety will help them pick healthy lunch options.  
  • Leftovers in ready-to-go containers.  When I cook dinner, I put leftovers in small containers that are easy to pack for lunches.  Pasta, rice and meatballs or tacos are good choices.  
  • Pack fruits and veggies ahead of time. They are a healthy alternative to processed snacks, and a great idea for kids that have Type 1 Diabetes.  
  • Make a fruit and cheese platter with whole wheat crackers. It's fun and adds variety to lunch foods.
    WebMd also has some suggestions to make this easier and more fun.

    Is My Child's Bag Lunch Healthy?

    lunch foods
    Low carb lunches with healthy lunch meat and pitas.

    Typically, kids’ lunches have a sandwich, fruit and a snack. That doesn’t sound bad, but taking a closer look at those things reveals whether or not it’s a healthy lunch.  Are they high or low calorie lunches?
    The kind of bread you use and what you put in between makes the sandwich healthy or very unhealthy.

    •  Use real fruit jam instead of jelly and organic peanut butter in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
    • Use whole wheat tortillas or pitas instead of sliced bread.  
    • Healthy lunch meat like turkey is lower in fat than salami or other sandwich meats.  Leaner meats make more healthy sandwiches.  My kids love salami but it isn't the healthiest choice.  I let them eat that every other week to cut down on the high fat content.  
    • Tuna is a great choice. It can be packed as part of a healthy salad, served with low-calorie crackers instead of bread or served with some celery sticks for a healthy snack. It's ideal for low carb lunches.  
    Kids Eat Great has some pointers to help you.

    Kids are active and their metabolisms are on overdrive all day. Eating foods high in protein, fiber and calcium can give them energy throughout the day.  Plenty of Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables can help them stay healthy and cold free.

    It’s easy to monitor their breakfast and dinner since they are at home with us. Lunch is different because they are on their own and might be tempted to eat fast food or snacks from a vending machine.  Fast food has become a convenient and tasty choice over the past twenty years, and it is a contributing factor to the childhood obesity epidemic. Teaching children to eat healthy even when we aren't able to make food choices for them, helps them to become healthier adults in the future.

    Marci Psalmonds
    Contributing Writer

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