STLMoms Nutrition Connection: A Lunch Time Opportunity

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By Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RD, CSSD

We know that getting a good night sleep as well as eating a healthy breakfast can improve your child’s focus and performance at school. But don’t forget the lunchtime meal! As most of us know, a large and heavy lunch or a refined and processed lunch can leave you feeling tired, and less productive the rest of the day.

In addition, kids need a balanced and varied lunch to meet their growing needs. Here are some tips to improve your child’s choices from the cafeteria school line as well as a packed lunch from home.

Inquire about the Lunch Line:

· Look over the cafeteria menu with your child. Ask about what they would choose for their typical lunch and what foods they enjoy. Reviewing the cafeteria menu can be a great opportunity for a conversation about healthy eating and how to make the healthiest choices.

Lunch from Home

· If you’re helping your child pack a lunch, start by brainstorming foods and snacks that he or she would like to eat. In addition to old standbys, such as peanut butter and jelly, try pitas or wrap sandwiches stuffed with grilled chicken or veggies from last nights dinner. Or spice up that traditional PB&J with peanut butter, bananas, and some honey snuggled between whole wheat pita bread.

· Small simple changes can really transform the boring monotonous lunch. Try switching the traditional condiment on the <!–////–>turkey<!–////–> sandwich from mayonnaise to a healthier pesto sauce or use marinara on a chicken breast sandwich.

· Encourage your child to pack a lunch, at least occasionally. Research shows if they pack it, it won’t get traded! Make sure there are some prepped and cleaned grab and go veggies that can easily be slipped into their lunchbox.

A Lunch Makeover

Instead of:


Higher-fat lunch meats

Lower-fat deli meats, such as turkey

White bread

Whole-grain bread, whole wheat tortillas, whole wheat English muffins, whole-wheat pita bread


Light mayonnaise or mustard, guacamole, pesto sauce, fruit chutneys, hummus

Fried chips and snacks

Baked chips, air-popped popcorn, trail mix, veggies and dip

Fruit in syrup

Fruit in natural juices or fresh fruit

Cookies and snack cakes

Trail mix, yogurt, or homemade baked goods such as oatmeal cookies or fruit muffins

Fruit drinks and soda

Milk, water, or 100% fruit juice


Prepackaged lunches for kids are popular and convenient, but they’re also expensive and can be less than nutritious. Instead, create your own packable lunch using healthier ingredients. Consider these components and pack them in plastic containers, resealable plastic bags, or colorful plastic wrap:

· cold-cut roll ups (lean, low-fat turkey, ham, or roast beef; lower-fat cheese; and flour tortillas)

· cold pizza (shredded mozzarella cheese; pizza sauce; flour tortilla, English muffin, or mini pizza shell)

· cracker sandwiches (whole-grain crackers filled with cream cheese or peanut butter and jelly)

· peanut butter and celery sticks

· veggie sticks with low-fat dip or dressing

· 100% fruit juice box

· optional dessert (choose one): flavored gelatin, low-fat pudding, oatmeal raisin cookie, graham crackers, fresh fruit

Be sure to check with your child’s school to make sure that there aren’t any restrictions on what kids can pack in their lunches. And don’t forget to involve the kids in the process so that healthier lunches can become a goal they can strive for, too.

Safe Packing

A packed lunch carries the added responsibility of keeping the food safe to eat. That means keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. One study found that fewer than a third of parents included a cold pack when packing yogurt, deli-meat sandwiches, and other foods that need refrigeration.

Here are some suggestions to keep foods safe when packing your child’s lunches:

· Wash your hands first.

· Use a thermos for hot foods.

· Use cold packs or freeze water bottles overnight. They’ll thaw in the lunch box.

· Wash out lunch boxes every day or use brown paper lunch bags that can be discarded.

· Toss in some moist towelettes to remind kids to wash their hands before eating- and to clean themselves up afterward.

· And toss in a love note (:

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