Parents struggle, especially at back-to-school time.
Should you spend $100 on shoes that make your son fit in when a $25 pair will do? If you pick the Miley Cyrus backpack over the Selena Gomez messenger bag, will your daughter get picked on?
And, what should you pack in their lunches?
Trying to keep children from getting bored with their home-made lunches can be a challenge. Some moms and dads make it easy on themselves by buying packaged lunches. But most foods marketed for the lunch box are highly processed and might contain trans fat, high-fructose corn syrup and a host of preservatives.
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Good Medicine, a publication from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, lists the five worst packaged kids meals in its summer edition. Dietitians from The Cancer Project, an affiliate of the physicians' group, analyzed almost 60 packaged lunch box meals offered by major companies. Lunchables' Maxed Out Cracker Stackers Combo Ham and Cheddar topped the list with 22 grams of fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol and 1,600 milligrams of sodium — more salt than younger children should consume in a day.
The report found that most packaged lunch box meals have little or no fiber and are high in fat, sugar, sodium and cholesterol.
Nancy K. Durall, registered dietitian with St. Joseph Healthy Living Center, recommends parents base their child's lunches on the MyPyramid Guide (www.mypyramid.gov) and use it as a teaching tool for youngsters to learn balanced, healthful nutrition. The hands-on lunch-making experience can be an excellent way for parents to teach healthful nutrition and responsibility for their child's health choices, she said.
"All meals can be a valuable teaching time, laying a foundation of good health for years to come," Durall said. "In addition to good nutrition and diet habits, lunch planning and preparation helps children establish organizational and planning skills and helps them develop creativity and responsibility."
Time is of the essence during the morning rush, and it's important for parents to make it count.
"Putting it all together the night before makes it so convenient to grab and go on the way out the door," Durall said.
There are plenty of nutritious foods that are easy to pop into the lunch box. Once the sandwich is made, let the youngsters use the three-bowl approach. Fill one bowl with fruit, one with treats and one with dairy (cheese sticks, cubed cheese, yogurt). Throw in a juice box, and lunch is ready.
Fresh fruit is an easy choice for the lunch box.
"Fresh fruit is the original fast food," said Janet Tietyan, a registered dietitian with the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. "Apples are the obvious choice because they travel well. But with the right containers, bananas, pears and berries can arrive unharmed at lunch."
Said Durall: "Encourage youngsters to explore dried fruits. They can satisfy a sweet tooth and offer fiber, nutrition and easy, safe lunch packing.
"Not to be a daily habit, but for fun, pack a mini candy bar or a couple of small cookies with a reminder to eat the other great-tasting foods the child has chosen first. Let children make suggestions and together be creative. There are many more combinations as varied as texture, flavor, color and shapes available in foods from the garden and market."
For children who might have a problem with their weight, choose lower fat and reduced-sugar items, Tietyan said. "For lower calorie lunches, use wraps instead of bread. Wraps can be fun to eat."
Tietyan also recommends that parents use containers that will hold fruit, wraps and fresh veggies. "Choosing reusable containers and lunch bags rather than plastic bags is a sustainable way to go."