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Healthy back-to-school lunches

Think outside the lunchbox for healthy back-to-school lunches

With summer’s heat still sizzling, school bells are beginning to beckon kids back into classrooms. Knowing what and how much your kids eat is a bit easier to monitor during the lax days of summer break. And while there’s been an increased focus on the content and nutrition of school menus over the last few years, the best way to truly know what your kids are eating is to pack their lunchboxes with a variety of healthy items that are enticing, fun and that they’re sure to enjoy.

The internet is chock full of sites offering ideas for healthy school lunches along with creative recipes to make lunchtime delicious as well as fun. The recently revamped USDA dietary guidelines (www.choosemyplate.com) are also an excellent resource to ensure that your kids get a variety of healthy foods from each food group.
A nutritious lunch doesn’t have to include the basic sandwich, chips and a drink. Skip the Cheetos and gummy fruit snacks. Think outside of the lunchbox and consider creative ways to incorporate the five basic food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy – into a wholesome lunch.

Many lunch recipes found online incorporate items from a variety of food groups. If developing your own, consider fresh fruits such as apple or pear slices, grapes, blueberries and strawberries or dried fruits such as apricots, cranberries, cherries and raisins. Vegetables can run the gamut from carrot and celery sticks to broccoli florets and cucumber slices. Grains – at least half of which should be whole grains – include pasta, pita bread, wraps and crackers and nuts. A diet with sufficient protein will keep young energy levels running high. Consider lean meats like chicken or other protein foods like eggs and beans. Hummus, made from chickpeas, makes a great dip for carrot sticks or a spread on pita bread. Lastly, dairy items ensure a diet rich in calcium. Options include fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. Convenience items like string cheese and GoGurt® are popular lunchbox staples. And remember to be mindful of foods high in sugar and sodium as these may lead to health problems down the road.

So parents, give yourselves an A+! With healthy meals at home and school along with plenty of sleep and exercise, your kids will have the foundation to be successful and productive students when that first school bell chimes. And while we’re on the subject, know that by establishing healthy eating habits early, you earn extra credit in ensuring that they carry these habits into adulthood.back to school lunch