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Healthy lunches help make a great school day

August 10, 2011

By Beth Pike, OSU Extension Services - Antlers

Even though the weather is warm and the local pools are still open, it is not too early to start thinking about packing those school lunch bags. Many children simply prefer eating a lunch from home. This is great because parents can have greater control over what their child is eating.
“Obviously the school systems across the state must meet certain health and nutrition requirements,” said Deana Hildebrand, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist. “Even though schools prepare healthy meals, some children simply prefer bringing a lunch from home.”
As you gear up for the new school year, talk to your children to see what types of foods they want to see in their lunch boxes. Better yet, go to the store together to get some new ideas for fresh and healthy lunch items.  Children like to help and it is good to involve them in the choosing and preparation of their foods.
I know that my little daughter prefers a lunch from home and I’ve discovered that not only does she eat everything I’ve packed, she helps me plan her “menu”, makes healthier food choices, and eats everything in her lunch.  This has also helped her attitude towards school in that she does not dread going school.
By allowing your child to help, it encourages them to eat what has been packed and will keep you up-to-date on your child’s current favorite foods. Helping your child pack his or her lunch can also help a parent maintain control of portion sizes.  In fact, just this morning, while preparing my daughter’s lunch for daycare, she expressed that she wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with one carrot stick (yesterday she wanted two carrot sticks)!
Try making a list of foods and organizing them into categories such as main dish, vegetables, fruits, snacks and fun foods. Tell your child to pick one thing from each category for the day’s lunch.
There are many healthy options when it comes to packing a lunch. Sandwiches have always been popular, but it does not have to be boring. Use cookie cutters to cut out fun sandwich shapes.  We have a sandwich dinosaur cutter and for some reason, it makes a BIG difference! Use a variety of ingredients or put a new twist on old favorites. Instead of peanut butter and jelly try peanut butter and cream cheese. Instead of bread make a wrap with a tortilla. Just be sure to read the label on the tortilla to watch for trans fats. A pita pocket works well to hold chicken or tuna salad. Bean spreads are a great alternative to lunchmeat and provide protein, too.
Many children like the prepackaged lunchmeat and cracker combos. Make your own for a much more reasonable cost.
To help cut down on fat and calories, try to avoid foods such as potato chips, snack cakes, pastries, fruit snacks and processed cheese slices.  If you don’t purchase them and don’t have them on hand in your home, it will be harder for your family to consume them.  It’s a relatively small change with big results!
Keep in mind that the purpose of lunch is to provide your child with brain food and energy that will get him or her through the rest of the school day. Learning takes place from the ring of the morning bell to the ring of the bell signaling the end of the day. A tasty, nutritious lunch will help ensure your child can learn all day along. A good lunch, in some cases, also is fuel for after-school sports or other activities.


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