Putting the health and fun back into your kid’s lunch!
Scooby Doo, Strawberry Shortcake, Transformers, Care Bears…
Ah, the selection of lunch boxes and all the wonderful school supplies hitting store shelves marks the start of a new school year. This was always one of my favorite times of the year growing up. I still go school supply shopping for my office! The lunch box selection has actually returned to the same selection I found in elementary school. Finding the right lunch box was a big commitment, because it would be one school supply that would stick with you for the entire school year!
What about the contents that fill those lunch boxes throughout the school year? I was never quite as concerned with that. My mom packed my lunch through elementary school. I was a creature of habit with meals, so it wasn’t hard to pack the same sandwich, carrots, potato chips, and snack cake each day. I kept up the habit when I took over packing my lunch in middle school. Then came high school, and something went horribly wrong for me! It was no longer cool to carry your lunch. Instead, we happily purchased our lunch from the “junk food line” in the cafeteria. (It really was called the “junk food line”). Every day was the same unfortunate choices – snack cakes and chocolate milk. I look back in horror on those selections. Thank goodness I was fortunate enough to have healthy meals at dinner!
Now that we know so much about the impact nutrition is having on us and on our children, lunch decisions are much more important.
Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years. As reported by the CDC this results in an increase from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008 in children 6 – 11 years old and from 5.0% to 18.1% in 12 -19 year olds. (information from http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/obesity/) Obese children are at a far greater risk for a wide variety of health problems from high cholesterol to high blood pressure (both are indicator signs for cardiovascular disease). Also included in the long list of health risks are: sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, low self-esteem, Type 2 diabetes…list goes on and on. No wonder we can’t get kids to achieve in school! School systems across the country that have incorporated healthy, minimally processed foods into their school lunch program have documented improvements in ability to concentrate in school, increased cognitive development, and fewer discipline problems to name a few.
So what should you pack in your kid’s lunch?
• Peanut butter and jelly is always a good stand –by. Be sure to purchase natural peanut butter (Don’t worry! There are good inexpensive, “no-stir” brands. Remember to check the peanut butter and jelly labels. With jelly, be sure the label lists fruit as the first ingredient and avoid products with high fructose corn syrup (highly concentrated sugar). Avoid hydrogenated oils in your peanut butter and other foods.
• Pinwheels: Take one tortilla, then spread cream cheese, peanut butter or even hummus on it. Add chopped up veggies or real turkey, not processed lunch meat. Roll in a log. Cut into slices. Serve with carrots, and an apple.
• Sandwiches: The combinations are endless and can provide a great way for your kids to explore the veggie isle at the grocery. Allow them to pick out 1 to 2 veggies they like and then have them pick out one new veggie they have not tried. Add those to sandwiches with lettuce, cream cheese or low-fat mayonnaise. Watch out for lunch meats! Most deli meats are full of nitrates and fillers which are not healthy. Try brands that are minimally processed, like Boar’s Head, or use leftovers from the prior evening’s meal to add to their sandwiches. And, who says you have to use bread? Use fun multi-grain tortillas or giant pieces of bibb lettuce to contain all the tasty ingredients.
• Smoothies: If you are able to keep something cold (good thermos), try packing a smootie for your child! Load your blender with frozen fruit (your child’s favorite) and a low fat yogurt. Add a little local honey if it needs a touch of sweetness. Blend until smooth. You can also make this the night before and freeze it so that the smoothie is still cold but thawed by the time lunch rolls around.
So go on, take your kids out shopping for their new lunch boxes. Feel good that you have the power to influence their future health by packing healthy lunches for them this year. If that seems like a tall order, pack their lunch with them each evening before bed. This involves them in the process and helps them make choices, too. Better decision making will lead to a child who is less likely to hit the “junk food line” once they reach high school.
More healthy lunch box recipes: