Here’s another one of my Guest Bloggers—Cristiana Milone—who works with me in the Health4Life Clinic. She’s a registered dietitian and she helps our families form healthy nutrition habits at home. She had a great idea to help get you ready for packing school lunches. When I’m back from vacation, I’m going to let you know how Strong4Life is helping to improve nutrition in school cafeterias.
I am thrilled to be a Guest Blogger for Healthy Dose while Dr. Walsh is on vacation.
You’ve probably already checked off lots of “back to school” items from your never-ending to-do list.
Get school supplies. Check.
Go to teacher meet and greets. Check.
Buy new clothes and shoes. Check and check.
What about “providing your kids with healthy school lunches?” Did that make your back to school to-do list?
I’m going to make it easy for you to check that one off your list, because it’s just as essential for kids to eat healthy at school as it is for them to have the proper supplies like backpacks, paper and pencils.
As a bonus, these tips should help you stay on budget and can be squeezed in your jam-packed family schedule.
We’ve all heard about the food groups, but it can seem overwhelming to try to round out each meal with foods from all groups. So, aim for just a few of the food groups in your child’s lunch. Eating at least three different food groups at a meal will make you more likely to get in your daily nutrients, meaning you are making healthy choices. So, get creative and try to incorporate three food groups in each lunch you pack.
This simple equation will ensure you get in three food groups:
(Grain AND Protein) + (Veggie OR Fruit) + (Dairy) = a healthy lunch for your child
What does that look like? Make a healthy roll-up (this one gets extra credit because it contains more than three food groups!):
1) Take a whole grain tortilla or flat bread (Grain) and fill it with two slices of turkey (Protein) +
2) 1 slice of cheese (Dairy) +
3) Add a side of carrots and a piece of fruit (Veggies or Fruits)
Remember, dairy products such as low fat yogurt, cottage cheese, a cheese stick or a carton of low fat milk also count as protein, so you could skip the meat.
Count on Colors
When thinking about veggies and fruits think about the rainbow. The more colors the better. Pack veggies and fruits in a variety of colors. Here’s a suggestion for each color of the rainbow:
- Red—sliced red pepper with hummus
- Green—celery and peanut butter
Water is a Winner
Juice boxes are very popular, but they are high in sugar. If your school allows it, send your kids to school with a cool water bottle and encourage them to refill it throughout the day. If you want to mix it up, you can make homemade tea with green tea bags, mint tea, fruit tea or fruit-flavored water (simply squeeze lemons, limes, or orange and add to the water bottle). If you need to, you can always start with baby steps by diluting the juice.
Time Saver Tip
Take 30 mins. on Sunday to rinse and slice all veggies and fruits and store them in air-tight containers in your refrigerator so you can assemble the lunches quickly each evening or morning. Maybe you could even set up an assembly line and have the kids help…they will love being your sous chef!
Money Saver Tip
Check your grocery store circular each week for sales on fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. Also, consider frozen or canned fruits and veggies, as they are often on sale. Tap water costs less than one cent per gallon, while a typical juice box costs about $1 each.
For quick reference, here are some additional ideas for making your “food group equation.”
- Leftover slice of veggie pizza with a side of raw veggies and a fruit
- 1 cup whole wheat pasta salad (with any of these ingredients: chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, carrots, peas, feta cheese or low fat cheese, turkey, olives, corn, fresh basil or parsley); 1 fruit or any raw veggies on the side.
- Other cold salads with any veggies, tuna or egg as optional topping. Base: pasta, bulgur, beans, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, millet, barley, or rice. May add: chopped celery, carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese, parsley. Dress with olive oil/balsamic vinegar.
- Spinach ravioli with tomato sauce or sautéed veggies to re-heat, and side salad/veggies
- Sandwiches: all kinds. Examples: Turkey/tomato/lettuce/avocado, or even a peanut butter sandwich with fruit on the side or any kind of wrap. Avoid salami, pepperoni, bologna, sausage as they are high fat meats. Choose 100 % whole grain breads.
- Yogurt, cereal bar, and a fruit cup or raw veggies (carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, celery, broccoli or cauliflower)
- Any leftover can be packed, just follow the rule of three!
- Hummus or black bean dip with raw veggies, cheese sticks, a fruit or a hard-boiled egg
- Yogurt and granola with a side of mixed fruit
Note: for salads or foods that should stay cold you can add an ice pack to your lunchbox