Starting school again means a lot of changes in your routine with homework, sports, after-school activities and more. The list goes on and on.
One area sometimes overlooked by parents: making sure your child eats healthy at lunch. Dr. Lauren Michael , a pediatrician at Novant Health Steelecroft Pediatrics in Charlotte, North Carolina, offered some healthy lunch ideas for your children – and for yourself.
Lunch for your child
“When preparing meals for your child, variety is key,” Michael said. “A balanced meal consists of a source of protein, fruit, vegetable, whole grains and dairy products.”
A good rule of thumb is to avoid including snacks that are processed or pre-packaged, the doctor added.
“Children need 16 to 24 ounces of low-fat milk daily,” Michael said. She recommends eight ounces of skim or 1 percent milk at lunch to help meet those goals. If your child is reluctant to drink milk, Michael advises substituting the milk with a low-fat yogurt at lunch and encouraging your child to drink plenty of water.
Avoid giving your child sugary drinks. This means no soda, sweet or sports drinks. “Juice should be limited to no more than eight ounces per day of 100 percent juice,” Michael said. “If you are struggling to decrease your child’s juice intake, it is helpful to freeze juice cubes and add them to water. Your child will get that hint of sweetness, but is taking in mostly water.”
When choosing a protein for lunch, Michael advises reading labels to limit saturated fats and sodium. “Lunch meat or other prepared meats tend to have higher levels of sodium, so choose low-sodium options,” Michael said.
When making a sandwich, Michael said to start with bread that is 100 percent whole grain. The same should apply to cereals and pasta. “A ‘sandwich thin’ is a good alternate to two larger slices of bread,” she said.
As for fruit and vegetables, the fresher the better, the doctor said. Look for colorful options as they provide for a variety of nutrients. “If you are struggling to get your children to try new fruits and vegetables, encourage them to be part of the meal preparation,” Michael said. “Have them choose one new fruit or vegetable to try each week,” she added. Get your children to accompany you to the grocery store and let them you prepare meals with you.
Don’t forget about you
Many of the same rules that apply to your children can also help you make better choices for yourself.
Michael recommended following the same advice for sandwiches as you use for your children – whole-wheat or whole-grain bread with a low-fat, low-sodium deli meat. Try to pack something you’ve made at home, such as leftovers from the night before or a sandwich.
Good protein sources include lean red meat, poultry, fish, beans or eggs. “Grilled or baked chicken without the skin and lean cuts of beef are healthier options,” Michael said. These can be added to salad greens along with a reasonable portion of salad dressing.
Look at the meal and make sure it has protein, a fruit and a vegetable and a whole grain. Half your plate should be fruit and veggies, one-quarter should be protein and one-quarter should be a whole-grain starch.
Looking for additional meal planning ideas and healthy choices? Visit NovantHealth.org/RemarkableYou for more information.
Learn about pediatric services offered near you:
Novant Health (North Carolina)
Novant Health UVA Health System (Virginia)