While you can urge your child to eat healthier at home, once you send them off to school it can be difficult. But what your child eats during the day will fuel their brains for prime learning, so packing their lunch--rather than relying on the school's choices--is something you should consider.
In the following tips, Sodexo lays out ways to add balance and nutrition to school meals and snacks without sacrificing taste and enjoyment.
Think of the food groups when packing or purchasing a healthy, balanced school meal.
Whether preparing meals at home or choosing meals at school, remember all foods groups play a role in creating and sustaining optimal health. These include wholesome grains, lean proteins, colorful fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. Look to add variety to your food choices. Instead of relying only on sliced bread, try whole-grain crackers, tortilla wraps or pita bread. Dairy foods are an important source of calcium and vitamin D, and you can help your children meet their three daily servings of dairy with any combination of milk, cheese, and yogurt (single serving, drinkable or squeezable). Pack or choose cut-up fruits and sliced vegetables and enjoy with low-fat dips or portable single-serving sizes of peanut butter or hummus. For more information about food groups and balanced meal planning, check out the ChooseMyPlate educational resources.
Be sure to include a protein source.
Protein is an important part of every meal because it provides a source of sustained energy. As protein foods typically take longer to digest than carbohydrate-rich foods like grains and fruits, adding protein to meals and snacks can help students feel full longer and help them stay focused in the classroom. And don't forget about breakfast. Consider quick and portable protein sources like peanut butter on whole-grain bread with jam (or soy nut butter or other nut butters), string cheese, hard boiled eggs or a smoothie made with milk or yogurt. Other lunch time protein choices include tuna and lean lunch meats like turkey or chicken; shredded cheese for a salad topping; cottage cheese paired with fruit; and plant-based protein sources like edamame, beans or tofu.
Find creative ways to sneak in fruits and veggies.
Add veggies like cherry tomatoes, spinach, broccoli florets, or bell pepper or zucchini slices to pasta salads, or add banana slices to a peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread. Use avocado as a sandwich spread and add lettuce and tomato, or try topping with shredded carrots.
Read labels when choosing treats.
The USDA Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act requires schools to offer students snacks and beverages that are lower in calories, sodium and added sugars. Families can implement these same snack and beverage guidelines at home. Think about the drink. For kids of all ages, water and milk are the best beverage choices. Besides having zero calories, water is a good way to stay hydrated throughout the school day. Milk is an important source of calcium needed to help build strong bones, and is also gaining popularity as an alternative to traditional sports beverages. Look for fat-free or low-fat milk to help manage calorie intake. If your child has a dairy allergy, consider soy milk as a dairy alternative, and be sure to read labels to compare amounts of added sugars.
Published with permission from RISMedia.