Healthy Lunches for Kids

One in four children in this country is overweight or obese, a statistic that has more than doubled in the past two decades (super-obesity is up 98%). Baby fat is no longer a stage that children grow out of. A third of overweight preschoolers and half of overweight school-age kids will be obese adults. Overweight kids have a two-fold increased risk of becoming obese adults compared to lean kids. What we serve out kids at home and pack into their lunches can make a huge difference in their health and weight today and down the road. Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness gave us lots of healthy, tasty, and easy-to-fix lunch ideas.

What are the basic guidelines when planning a brown bag lunch?
The basic guideline is, include:
1. 1 lean protein
2. 1 whole grain
3. 1 fruit or vegetable
4. 1 calcium-rich item   

Ideas for easy and tasty healthy lunches.

1. Orange zinger wheels: Sweet and creamy, yet low-fat and full of antioxidants. Made with fat-free cream cheese, cranberry chutney, craisins, and a little orange zest.
2. Tuna salad wraps: Think outside the loaf, by making wraps and burritos like these. Use the right tortilla and the wrap will have the calcium equivalent of a glass of milk! Tuna also is a great source of the omega-3 DHA.
3. Peanut butter candy sandwich: An easy way to sneak wheat germ into your child’s diet, this sandwich is a mix of peanut butter, toasted wheat germ, and a little honey. You can add sliced bananas or apples to the sandwich, too! (1/4 cup of wheat germ supplies 25% of iron needs and 50% of zinc needs of a first grader.)
4. Whole wheat pita bread filled with fat-free cream cheese and peaches. Sprinkle with a little nutmeg.
5. Mini-burritos made with rice and black beans or fat-free refried beans in a tortilla with tomato salsa. These can be heated or eaten cold.
6. Pick ‘n dunk: Cold strips of grilled chicken with honey mustard dip, raisin bread dunked in cinnamon-apple yogurt, and a side of vegetables or fruit.
7. Quesadilla slices made with cheese and chicken or vegetables.

With any of the above, you can add:

Carton of Orange Juice (not orange flavored drink)
Sliced Apples
Applesauce (Single portion-sized cups of unsweetened apple sauce or fruit without added sugar)
6-ounce Container of Yogurt
Low-fat Chocolate Milk
Orange Slices
Baby Carrots with Humus Dip
Fresh Berries
Sprinkle apple slices with cinnamon sugar for a sweet taste.
Mix low-fat kiwi-strawberry yogurt with 1 chopped fresh kiwifruit.
Microwave fat-free popcorn, canned tomato soup to be made with nonfat milk 
Trail mix made with cereals, nuts, pretzels, dried fruit or raisins, and a few chocolate morsels.
Low fat cheese spread on whole wheat crackers
Low fat cheese cubes and seedless grapes make a delicious side dish for sandwiches or wraps.

Most of us know items that are not good for us. However, packaging can be tricky, and some products easily lead us to the idea that they are a healthy choice. The following items are foods that are often packed in school lunches with good intentions, but are not exactly the best choices:
Juice made with Concentrated Apple or Pear Juice
Fruit Leather
Apple Chips or Potato Chips
Flat Earth Chips 
Processed grains and high-sugar items, such as bottled smoothies.


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