Back to School Packing a Healthy Lunch

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For many Michigan families, the end of summer means heading back to school.  The beginning of the school year brings to mind the sound of tardy bells ringing, the sight of yellow buses dropping off children for an exciting day of education and the smell of freshly sharpened number two pencils. Unfortunately, heading back to school also means the sometimes-dreaded task of packing our children a healthy lunch.

Packing a lunch provides the benefit of knowing what your child is eating and ensuring your child has healthy food choices during their school day. When packing your child’s lunch, following these easy steps will ensure you send your child to school with a well-balanced and healthy meal.

Step #1 Look at your Lunchbox

Although the brown paper sacks are convenient, they don’t safely hold food items that require refrigeration. Look for an insulated lunch tote, and if your child’s lunch will be at room temperature for more than three hours, use an ice pack or a frozen bottle of water to keep their lunch cold.

Step #2 Spice up your Sandwich
If you’re making a sandwich, don’t get stuck on white bread. Choose whole grain bread, a whole grain bagel, whole-wheat tortilla, English muffin, pita or whole grain crackers. Inside the sandwich, pick lean deli meats, tuna fish, low-fat cheese, peanut butter or fat free refried beans. Feel free to add low-fat or fat-free extras such as mustard, ketchup, hummus or a little light mayonnaise. A sandwich can be made even healthier by adding lettuce or spinach, tomato, onion, green pepper or cucumber.

Step #3 Don’t Forget the Fruit

Add a piece of fresh fruit, a container of cut up fruit or an individual serving of canned fruit. When choosing canned fruit, always look for fruit canned in its own juice.

Step #4 Dive into Dairy

Don’t forget the dairy, which is important for building strong bones. Pack skim milk or light yogurt for a great source of calcium. You can also send your child with money to buy milk or yogurt at school.

Step #5 Selecting Sides

Fresh vegetables make a great, healthy side dish. Try baby carrots, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes or even a side salad. Kids love to dip! If you pack celery sticks, send peanut butter for dipping. If you pack carrots or other veggies, send low fat hummus as a tasty dip. Other sides to consider include low salt popcorn, whole-wheat crackers or even soup.

Try to keep lunch interesting by sending a variety of foods and varying the choices throughout the week. If you have a picky eater, let them help pack the lunch so they are more engaged in the process. Teaching healthy eating by providing balanced lunches and involving your child in the process of making meals will help your child establish healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

If you would like to learn more about making healthy lifestyle changes and if you have a child struggling with being overweight, the Hayes Green Beach Memorial New Generation Program may be right for you. New Generation is a weight management program that is specifically designed to help break the cycle of childhood obesity and provide information on better nutritional habits. Focusing on ages 8-14, children receive individual assessments with an HGB dietitian, exercise physiologist and behavior specialist as well as group education sessions twice weekly for six weeks.


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Tags: healthy lunch, hgb

Melanie Shehan

Melanie Shehan is a Registered Dietitian with Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital. Melanie is also the coordinator of the New Generation Program, a weight management program for children aged 8-14. For more information about the HGB New Generation Program call 517-543-1050 ext. 1249 or email at mshehan@hgbhealth.com.