Starting school again means a lot of changes in your routine with homework, sports, afterschool activities and more. The list goes on and on. One area sometimes overlooked by parents: making sure your child eats healthy at lunch.
September is Fruit & Veggies – More Matters Month, and its goal is to help focus the public’s attention on eating more fruits and vegetables.
Amanda Smith, registered dietitian with Novant Health Bariatric Solutions in Kernersville, North Carolina, offered some healthy lunch ideas for your children – and for yourself.
Lunch for your child
“For starters, a good rule of thumb is to include a whole grain and a protein source in your child’s lunch,” Smith said.
She recommended packing a sandwich using whole grain or whole wheat bread with low-fat, low-sodium deli meat for protein. Cheese is another good source of protein.
“With a sandwich, you have a great opportunity to add some veggies like spinach or lettuce,” Smith said.
Instead of packing potato chips with your child’s sandwich, Smith suggested carrot or celery sticks instead.
“Kids love to dip their vegetables,” Smith said. “Hummus is a good option for a healthy dip because there are a large variety of flavors. If your child likes ranch dressing, use a ranch seasoning packet with plain nonfat Greek yogurt. It doesn’t have the fat that a regular ranch dressing has.”
Smith also recommended using fruit as dessert because it’s sweet but has fiber, vitamins and minerals that your child’s body needs.
“Fruit cups are easy,” Smith said. “Look for fruit in water or its own juice. Fresh fruit like apples, bananas or mandarin oranges are also great.”
She also suggested including things that are easy to peel or easy for children to eat by themselves. An easy tip? Prepackage fruits and veggies so you can throw them in the lunch box in the morning.
Lunch for yourself
It’s also important to make sure you are packing a healthy lunch for yourself. Smith 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.
If you prefer a salad, she suggested making sure you have some kind of protein and going light on the salad dressing.
“If you’re trying to stay away from bread, you should try lettuce wraps with deli meat and cheese or tuna or chicken salad,” Smith said. “Whole wheat wraps are also a good option with a lot of opportunity to fill it with vegetables.”
Smith suggested slicing up bell peppers, spinach and tomatoes and using hummus or avocado as a replacement for mayonnaise.
Other tips to keep in mind
Smith offered some additional quick tips to use to make sure you’re packing a healthy lunch.
- Stay away from processed foods like canned items or frozen meals as they have a lot of sodium.
- Try to pack something you’ve made at home, such as leftovers from the night before or a sandwich.
- 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, a quarter should be protein and a quarter should be a whole grain starch.
Looking for additional lunch ideas? Visit ChooseMyPlate.Gov for more information.