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Healthy School Lunch

With school starting, your child’s school lunch is back on top of your to-do list. You want your child eating a healthy lunch every day. After all, studies have shown that a nutritious lunch helps kids perform better in school.

At the same time, you want your child to actually eat the lunch! So do you pack a healthy lunch box for your child? Do you give them money to buy a lunch at school and cross your fingers they choose a healthy one? Do you buy a pre-packaged, grab-and-go meal that costs more and is not all that healthy?

A recent Time magazine reported, “One of every three children in America is overweight or obese. This is signaling a major national health crisis with long-term consequences”. The report found that 40% of obese children and 70% of obese adolescents will become obese adults — a condition that increases the chance of developing diabetes, cancer and heart disease. It is time to fight against childhood obesity. Providing nutritious lunches and snacks for your children may not be easy, but it is essential to overcome this epidemic.

How can you avoid the lunchtime battle? Try having your child help make their lunch. Make sure they like everything you are putting in their lunch box so it doesn’t come back home at the end of day untouched.

Here is a list of healthy lunch items to consider:

  • Get out the cookie cutters – not for cookies, but for the sandwiches. Kids love food in shapes. You can make a star-shaped sandwich or even one shaped like a pumpkin. Surprise them with different shapes during the week. Serve sliced ham, chicken, tuna or egg salad sandwiches. Some kids love mustard and mayo while others may just want a pickle. Similarly, some kids don’t like peanut butter but will enjoy cashew or almond butter as a spread. Go with what your child likes.
  • Serve sliced meat rolled up into tubes and offer the bread separate — some kids just aren’t into sandwiches.
  • Tuna salad can be offered with crackers. Remember, bread doesn’t have to be sliced bread — offer bagels or tortillas. Even just plain sticky rice or couscous can be a hit.
  • Toothpicks can add some fun as kids love bite-sized food. Make a mini-sandwich and place a toothpick in it. You can get toothpicks with fun designs at party stores.
  • Other bite-sized foods are cucumber and avocado rolls. Many grocery stores now have a Japanese food section.
  • Make your own roll — use Korean roasted seaweed (with a nice sesame flavor) and sticky rice. These are simple versions of kimbap. Just roll up the rice like into a mini-cylinder shape.
  • Tea sandwiches — these are bite-sized sandwiches. Although adult versions usually have spices and onions, you can make your child a cream cheese tea sandwich with very thin cucumber slices.
  • Use leftovers. If last night’s beef stew was a hit, serve it up for lunch. You can preheat and use a thermos, or just serve it cold. Note: Include an ice pack if you choose to serve it cold.

More great foods for that perfect school lunch:

  • Apple slices and organic peanut butter
  • Pack almonds or raisins for snack time
  • Carrot sticks with a container of low-fat ranch dressing or make your own with a mixture of half ranch dressing and half yogurt
  • Dips can help kids eat more vegetables
  • Hummus dips or black bean dips for dipping carrot and celery sticks
  • Healthy fruit dip made with vanilla yogurt, honey and cinnamon
  • Sweet potato fries
  • Make healthy muffins with ingredients like wheat germ or oatmeal
  • Whole roasted chicken shredded up and rolled in a whole wheat tortilla with black beans
  • Homemade Jello — start with gelatin and add 100% fruit juice and honey
  • Always have fruit and veggies cut up. If it is not cut, it will not be eaten!

The main thing is to keep it positive. Your kids will start to ask for these foods on their own if you give them healthy choices and keep them involved in the process.

Let’s all do our part to help stop child obesity in America. Have a great school year — one that starts with healthy, nutritious school lunches!

By Kay Spears, San Antonio Nutritionist