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5 Tips for Packing a Healthy Lunch

August 15th, 2012 | Posted by Kyle Craig in Child development | Health

Vanderbilt, Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Children, Kids, Kyle Craig, 5 Tips for Packing a Healthy Lunch, food, nutrition, school lunch, MyPlate, fruit juice, canned fruit, apples, berries, melon, baby carrots, grains, pasta, sugar crash, spoilage, plastic, sandwich bags, breakfast, students, school

School is back in session and for many kids, this means preparing for the rigors of exams.  Packing a healthy lunch is an excellent way to provide your child with the nutrients they need to help them increase their learning capacity and memory, all while keeping them full and focused in the classroom.

1.   Pack the Night Before

Mornings can be very hectic for families. By packing lunches the night before you’ll have time to carefully plan your child’s meal and make sure only the most nutritious items make the lunch sack.  Rushing to pack a lunch while heading out the door often means that items will be tossed in aimlessly. You’ll be more likely to include sugar- and salt-packed snacks such as snack bars, potato chips, and pudding cups.

2.   Think MyPlate

Packing a lunch should be no different than planning for any other meal. Just follow the MyPlate plan and you’re guaranteed to give your child the most healthy meal possible.  At least half of the lunch should be fruits and vegetables. Some quick and simple ideas include sliced apples, berries, or melon and baby carrots, sliced celery, or leftover veggies from dinner. Fresh fruits aren’t always in season; look for canned fruits packed in water or 100% fruit juice, which will cut down on the amount of simple sugar and prevent sugar crashes later on.

Half the grains should be whole. Plan for breads or pastas to be whole grains; if you have a picky eater on hand, it’s okay to get white pastas and breads that are fortified with whole grains.

Don’t leave out the protein and dairy; if serving deli meats isn’t your thing, reach for Greek yogurt instead.  Greek yogurt is packed with protein and serves as the dairy as well.  Packing nuts such as walnuts, cashews, and almonds will also pack a protein punch and help your child stay full for the rest of the school day.

Finally, if your child likes sandwiches, make sure each component of “MyPlate” is a part of it. Adding avocados and tomatoes to the sandwich will take care of the fruit group.

3.   Sugar Crash

Avoid packing items high in sugar.  All those foods will do is give your child a 20-minute sugar buzz followed by the urge for a long nap.  If your child has a sweet tooth, pack some raisins or dried cranberries, which will satisfy the craving and provide long lasting energy.

4.  Avoid Spoilage

Food safety should be at the top of every parent’s list.  With four to five hours between the time your child hits the school bus to lunch, the food you pack is sure to meet the heat.  Avoid foods going bad by packing your child’s lunch in an insulated container with a gel ice pack.  The gel will last longer than regular ice and keep the lunch colder.  Avoid another mess by making sure the gel is packed in hard plastic rather than soft.  Insulated lunch pails and thermoses also work for hot snacks like soup.

5. Most Important Lunch Item: Breakfast

Whether you are packing your child’s lunch or letting them dive into a healthy school lunch program, the most important part to a great lunch starts with a healthy breakfast. Breakfast should be protein packed with healthy whole grains mixed in.  A student that enters the lunch room hungry is more likely to overeat and choose foods that are packed with sugar.  Eating a balanced breakfast is going to help your bright student through the morning and avoid the belly blues to lunch.

What are your child’s favorite healthy lunch items?

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