Healthy snacks and lunches 101 for back to school

Published on Wed, Sep 30, 2009
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School bells started ringing again. Parents should consider doing some homework of their own on nutritious lunches to pack for their children. Since kids often want to eat the same types of food every day for lunch, it’s up to parents to take the lead and put new ideas on the table.

Registered dietitian Dena McDowell, M.S., C.D., nutritional expert for TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), says parents can expand a child’s food horizons and provide a better range of vitamins and nutrients on a daily basis by following these tips:

Let kids make the assignments

McDowell explains that a child may feel empowered and more apt to try new food combinations if he or she is part of the planning process.

Together, find recipes for new sandwiches, soups, and trail mixes to get ideas. Have children identify the items that need to be purchased and, with their help, create a grocery list.

At the store, point out different cheeses, low-fat yogurts and low-fat cottage cheese. Have them hunt for foods that are rich in whole grains, like whole-wheat flour, bran or oats.

Try selecting a few protein options such as natural peanut butter, cheese, lean deli meats, hummus, refried beans, nuts, and seeds.

Lunch 101 Lessons

McDowell, who also is a mom, has this advice:

Strategy #1:  Trying a new recipe or a new food can sometimes make a child lose their appetite. Offer the new item along with some of the foods that he or she will eat. Identify dairy products, fruits, and veggies that get a thumbs-up, and make sure to include these in the lunch. Encourage the child to try the new foods before digging into the foods he or she regularly eats.

Strategy #2

If a child is helping to pack lunches, teach him or her that balance is important. Aim to include a protein-rich food (lean meat, cheese, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, or yogurt), a dairy-rich food (milk, yogurt, or cheese), a fruit, a veggie, and some whole grains.

Also, remember that the more color is present in the meal, the more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it contains. Include at least three different, naturally-colored foods.

New ideas for doing the math

Put the following suggestions from McDowell on the brown-bag meal plan and experiment with new combinations:
Hummus with pita chips or whole-wheat crackers, carrots, orange slices, and low-fat milk.

Pita stuffed with lean deli ham, low-fat cheese and lettuce, pear, yogurt, and low-fat milk.

Trail mix (nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, whole-grain cereal, and/or chocolate chips), veggies and low-fat dip, banana, and low-fat milk.

Yogurt with granola and mixed berries, vegetable juice, and whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese.

To find a local chapter of TOPS, view www.tops.org or call 800/ 932-8677 for more information.