Healthy Lunch Alternatives for Your Child

Breakfast is paramount to fuel your body to start your day. But what about lunch? Lunch is just as important! Lunch refuels our bodies and replace nutrients so we can continue to work effectively and efficiently. And the more energy we expend throughout our day, the more vital it becomes to restock valuable ingredients required for continued stamina. Lunch box lunches are an easy way to provide healthy school lunches!

According to the 1996 School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children, many lunches provided by schools must adhere to health guidelines, by providing more nutritious alternatives. And yet, many kids still find their way to the junk food!
Though we can never be sure our kids are getting enough of the good stuff, there are ways to increase the odds!

Lunch menus are routinely given to make it easier to plan food choices. If you are not satisfied with the cafeteria’s choices, get involved with the parent-teacher group and discuss alternatives. For example, vending machine choices leave much to be desired in the nutrition department – but there are healthier options! Instead of offering potato chips, candy bars and ice cream, stock machines with baked chips and popcorn, granola bars and trail mix, and pure fruit popsicles or frozen yogurt!

But, regardless of healthy options of school lunches, sometimes it is necessary to pack your own – or perhaps, you simply prefer to! This is still no guarantee your child will eat nutritiously, but getting them involved may help! When children are involved in decision-making and preparation, they are more likely to eat it!

Packing a nutritious lunch does not have to cast fear into your heart if you know the basics of a balanced diet! First, start with carbohydrates, such as wholegrain breads, rice, beans and pasta. Complex carbs are the best source of energy for growing bodies and 55-60% of kid’ daily calorie intake should be from carbohydrates.

Vegetables are an important source of beta carotene, which converts vitamin A for healthy skin, healthy immunity and eye function. Popular choices such as carrots, broccoli, celery and cucumbers can be easily incorporated into a packed lunch by cutting up and adding a little low fat or nonfat dressing as a dip.

Fruit contains essential vitamins and minerals. B-vitamins enhance energy plus promote normal appetite, digestion and the metabolism of carbohydrates. Vitamin C assists in the production of collagen, which binds cells together and maintains blood vessels. It also may help you battle the common cold. Potassium helps maintain body fluids to combat dehydration. Calcium builds bone and teeth, plus helps activate the conversion of food into energy. Iron is essential in producing the pigment in blood and muscles that stores oxygen.

Packing a lunch chock full of goodness is not as difficult as it may seem! Start by asking your child what she would prefer. Not what your health-conscious side had in mind? Suggest healthy alternatives or try a health food store! Health food stores have a variety of nutritious alternatives, including snacks your child may be used to such as chips and popcorn.

Make a list of preferred foods, to make shopping and packing easier. Don’t try to completely overhaul bad habits all at once. Try 1-2 changes per week and stick with them. Keep in mind kids are influenced by their friends. If all the other kids have chips and soda, it can be very difficult to get your child to agree to low fat milk and carrot sticks – this is where health food stores become a valuable asset to your commitment to better health! But, don’t let her feel deprived. An occasional treat is acceptable. Pick one day per week for a less-than-optimal snack!

Talk to your child. Let them know there is a connection between what they eat and how they feel! Make adjustments according to preferences. Trading a problem? Seek assistance by discussing this issue with the school. Perhaps they could forbid lunch-box trading altogether!

Invest in an insulated soft-pack, an unbreakable, insulated drink bottle and a cold pack to keep lunches from spoiling. Freeze juice boxes and water bottles – this will help keep foods cool, plus drinks will be more refreshing.

Most kids don’t drink nearly enough water. Dehydration can cause fatigue. Drown doldrums with water, this will keep blood volumes up, thus assuring enough nutrients and oxygen needed for energy is moved through your body! Trying to curb sugary drink options – add some lemon to water for extra zing!

Beware of energy zappers! Certain foods contain “empty” calories – those with almost no nutritional value. Although these choices are not harmful when consumed in moderation and on occasion, a steady diet with ultimately affect your health. Take chocolate, for example. The sugar and caffeine in a candy bar will wake you up, but not for long. Processed sugar and caffeine lack the energy boosting vitamins and minerals, so that candy bar will actually make you more tired in the long run.

Fat-laden foods boost energy to the digestive system keeping it away from where you need it most – your brain and muscles! Soda is full of processed sugar and can dehydrate. Dehydration zaps energy!

Dazed and confused? Here are some healthy ideas…

Healthy Packed Lunch Choices –

Sandwiches
(*All sandwich options should be whole-grain or whole wheat when possible)

Peanut butter and banana
Cheese and tomato
Egg salad
Tuna with lettuce and tomato
Turkey roll-up on a tortilla with low fat cream cheese
Left over turkey or chicken salad

Container Choices
Yogurt with strawberries or trail mix
Lentil or garden vegetable soup in a thermos
Green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and a handful of sunflower seeds with low fat or nonfat dressing
Left over pasta with vegetables
Baked chicken nuggets
Couscous with pine nuts

Snacks
Veggie sticks with low fat or nonfat dressing
Baked tortillas and salsa
Pretzels
Celery with peanut butter and raisins or low fat cream cheese
Fresh fruit
Trail mix/dried fruits (in moderation as they are high in calories)
Granola bars
Low fat milkshake
Oatmeal cookies made with soy margarine
Slice of angel food cake topped with fresh fruit

Be creative to stump boredom. And don’t give up when set backs occur. Changing your eating habits is a slow, gradual process with plenty of roadblocks. Have a bad day of eating? That’s okay – start anew tomorrow!

And don’t get fixated on suggested servings – as long as you child gets an average of the recommended servings per week, you are well on your way to better health!

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