With summer coming to an end and school starting next month, for many of our children, we will be packing lunches to take to school.
For parents, some mornings are hectic; we’re rushing and lunch often gets thrown in the bag and then you’re out the door. Very little thought is given to the nutritional value of what our children may be eating.
Many parents, like myself, sometimes turn to prepackaged lunches as an easy and less hectic approach. But do you pay attention to all the not-so-healthy options that we are giving our children? Many prepackaged foods and juices contain high fat and sodium, are loaded with sugar and are empty in nutritional value. Lunch preparation can be easy and less stressful with great healthy options that are yummy and excellent brain food.
Start with a plan. Make a list of possible lunch options that each child enjoys. Use this as an opportunity to talk about nutrition in the foods they choose. Create your own family recipe box that includes healthy options. Creating your own also gives you a sense of ease for children with food allergies. Using the MyPlate guide as a reference will help make sure your child is getting the recommended amount of vegetables, fruits, protein, dairy and grains.
Next, make out weekly or monthly menus. This will also help when grocery shopping and save money on unnecessary buys. Designate an area for lunch option sides (crackers and other little snacks) in a basket in the cabinet. In your refrigerator, make an area for the lunches to be placed so that everything is in a designated place and in order.
By making out menus in advance, you can also prep some lunch options ahead of time and store in food containers. Also, consider leftovers as food options. I know many school cafeterias don’t allow students to use the microwave, but here is another helpful tip: Place warm water in a thermos that holds heat to warm it up, then pour the water out and place the warm food inside and seal the lid. This should help keep the food warm until your child eats lunch. If you are looking for a way to keep their lunch cold but there is not enough room in their bag, place a frozen water bottle or juice pouch to act as an ice pack.
Healthy eating habits help make for a healthy mind and body. Planning healthy meals together as a family will be educational and gives the family a chance to make changes together. Also, take the time to discuss options they may have at school. Making great nutritional choices now will make a big impact on their future.
As a final special touch, add a personal note for them to read.
Joanna Rogers is the 4-H Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program assistant at North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center. She can be reached at 910-671-3276, [email protected] or by visiting the website http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu.