Healthy Suggestions for Children's Lunches

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With the first day of fast approaching, many parents are looking for ways to pack tasty, but nutritious lunches for their children.

According to a recent U.S. News and World report, "More than 70 percent of schools allow kids to buy high-fat, salty, and sugared foods during lunch, and some 20 percent offer brand-name fast food as part of the USDA-supported school lunch or sell it a la carte."

Click here to watch a video segment on preparing healthy lunches

When children are used to having greasy foods and sugar-laden drinks for lunch, finding a way to pack a brown-bag lunch that appeals to their picky taste buds can be challenging.

"Every morning it is a struggle to think of nutritious foods to put in my daughters lunch box that she will actually eat and not just throw away," said Joan Hill, a resident of Burlington, Vt. and the mother of 7-year-old Georgia.

Lunch is a meal that both replenishes kids from their morning mental and physical activities and provides them with the energy that will sustain optimal functioning for the rest of the day, according to certified nutritionist Danny Arguetty.

"Although the brain is only 2 percent of the body’s weight it consumes about 20 percent of the body’s energy, alluding to the importance of replenishing nutrients during every meal, but particularly lunch," said Arguetty.

Arguetty offers the following advice for packing healthy lunches:

Get the right supplies — Stock up on reusable containers, small freezer and hot packs, insulated lunch bags and beverage containers to ensure everything will still look and taste good several hours later.

Engage your children — Get your kids involved in the shopping, menu planning, and even making their own lunches. "Children who are involved with the process of deciding what to eat, tend to eat what they have chosen,” said Arguetty. “And it teaches them how to make healthy food decisions for themselves early on.”

Offer variety — Make sure there are lots of different colors, textures and flavors included in your kid's lunches. "Kids can be picky about texture so offer something chewy as well as crispy, and make sure to include a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables," said Arguetty.

Portion control — Pack the appropriate amount of food for your kids so that they are not overeating or throwing too much away. "By taking charge and packing your kids lunches, you can regulate how much they eat and what they eat, which is key for positive physical and mental development" said Arguetty.

To minimize food cost and packaging waste and increase good quality foods, Arguetty recommended avoiding most prepackaged foods that are marketed towards kids and instead choose whole, unprocessed foods.

"Initially if your kids are used to cartoon characters on the packaging of their foods, it will be an adjustment to switch over to whole foods,” he said. “But if you get them involved with the process of making their lunches, these foods will not seem so foreign to them and they will be proud to eat what they have made.”

When choosing a beverage to send along with lunch, Arguetty recommended choosing something that will re-hydrate without adding unnecessary sugar and calories to children’s diets. "Most kids do not get enough water during the day, so packing bottled water with lunch ensures that they are staying hydrated," he said.

Healthy Lunch Box Options

-- Bananas — either plain or served with nut butters

-- Apples, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, fresh pineapple or papaya, and orange slices

-- Applesauce, no sugar added

-- Peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich on sprouted wheat bread

-- Whole grain tortilla or pita filled with hummus, cucumber, sprouts and tomato

-- Nitrate-free sliced turkey, avocado, and tomato sandwich or wrap

-- Guacamole and whole wheat pita chips for dipping

-- Last night's leftovers

-- Tomato soup with veggies

-- Veggie chili and homemade cornbread

-- Cottage cheese, as well as natural hard cheeses

-- Olives, celery or carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes

-- Whole grain crackers or rice cakes topped with nut butters or cheese

-- Yogurt, plain or add raw honey or maple syrup for sweetener

-- Nuts, raw or lightly roasted

-- Dried fruit (sulfate- and sugar-free)

-- Homemade trail mix