Tips for Healthy School Lunches

August 23, 2017

COMMENTARY by
Lara Darling, MD – Riley Physicians Pediatrics – East Washington

The beginning of a new school year means lots of changes for families—different routines, more activities and the return of homework. Add to the list: packing and eating healthy lunches. If parents regularly encourage healthy eating and serve nutritious foods at home, transitioning to eating lunch at school is easier. Here are some tips to keep in mind when considering how school lunches should complement a healthy diet.

Plan balanced meals. For optimal nutrition, every meal should include two servings of fruits or vegetables, one serving of protein, and one serving of carbohydrates. Both children and adults should aim for four total servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Pack an “anchor” food. It’s important for growing children to eat throughout the day. To ensure your kids eat something at lunchtime, pack a nutritious favorite every day that they’ll eat.

Give kids some choices. Allowing your children to have a say in what they eat can make healthy eating more enjoyable and successful. Invite them to go with you to the grocery store or sit down and make a list together.

Encourage kids to bring home leftovers. You can’t tell what your kids eat for lunch if they throw everything away. Especially with younger children, ask them to bring home anything they don’t eat so you can evaluate which foods are eaten and how much is left over.

Beware of “sugar bombs.” Cereal, granola and snack bars are convenient and easy to throw in lunch boxes, but they often contain large amounts of sugar. Watch for high-sugar drinks, too, such as juice boxes and sports drinks. Milk and water are ideal beverage choices.

Keep an eye on teenagers – While older children typically have more control over what they eat and often pack their own lunches, be sure to keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked with nutritious options. And if teens buy lunch at school, occasionally ask them what they’re eating and watch the lunch account (if possible; some school lunch accounts are online) to make sure they’re not overindulging on snack foods and treats.

While purchasing lunch at school can be convenient, healthy items may be harder to find in the lunch line. Parents and families can always serve healthier lunches when they pack them at home. If you need advice about healthy eating at home or school, talk to your pediatrician or primary care provider who can direct you to resources and reputable websites.

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