It's back to school time again in the Bluegrass. This is a great time for parents to begin planning healthier lunches for their school-aged children. School-provided lunches have been improved since the implementation of new school guidelines, but if you choose to pack your child's lunch, here are some things to keep in mind.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics developed some tips to follow when packing lunches for your children: Keep It Clean, Keep It Cool, and Keep it Healthy. Wash your hands before, during, and after preparing lunches and clean all food surfaces to prevent any cross-contamination. Make sure to wash lunch boxes or bags with warm, soapy water after each use. Remind your children to wash their hands before they eat or pack a hand sanitizing towelette in their lunch container. To prevent spoilage of perishable foods, pack your child's lunch in an insulated lunch box or bag, and include a frozen ice pack. If this is not possible, then substitute the perishable items with shelf-stable foods like fruit (whole or dried), a bagel with peanut butter, trail mix, or carrot and celery sticks.
In order to assemble healthier lunches, use the USDA's ChooseMyPlate as a resource. MyPlate encourages American's to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables and the other half with a serving of grains and a lean protein. One serving of low fat dairy should be added to complete the meal. Breakfast has been viewed as the most important meal of the day, but lunch definitely plays a critical role in children's health and development. The goal of meal-planning should be to prepare a lunch that is nutrient-rich to provide adequate energy for their brain and growing bodies.
According to the American Heart Association, parents should help children develop healthy habits. This includes serving as positive role models. If children see their parents making healthy food choices at meal times then they likely will want to make the same healthy choices. Instead of a slice of pizza, choose a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread or instead of a cheeseburger and French fries, choose a low-sodium soup with an apple. Show your kids the importance of eating healthy.
For more information on preparing nutritious meals for your children, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at EatRight.org, KIDS Eat Right at EatRight.org/kids, the American Heart Association at Heart.org, or the United States Department of Agriculture's MyPlate Kids' Place at ChooseMyPlate.gov/kids.
If you are interested in speaking with a registered dietitian in the Lexington or surrounding areas, visit the Bluegrass Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at BluegrassEatRight.org or Facebook page Facebook.com/bgandky.
Heather D. Leger is a clinical dietitian at UK Good Samaritan Hospital.