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With a new school year, you can pack your child’s lunch and send your child to class with safe and healthy lunches with these easy tips.
• Stay cool for school.Perish-able foods should not be left out of refrigeration for more than two hours—but according to a survey by the American Dietetic Association, four out of five kids say they don’t have access to a refrigerator at school. Help keep your child’s lunch safe by packing it in an insulated lunch bag or lunch box, and including an ice pack or frozen beverage container. Stop by the Extension office for a free insulated lunch bag.
• Skip the shortcuts.Most parents (73 percent) prepare their child’s lunch in the morning before school, which can make for an early morning time crunch. So be sure to avoid shortcuts that can lead to foodborne illness. To prevent cross-contamination, be sure countertops are washed and clean. Also, remember to start each day fresh by always washing your child’s lunch box or lunch bag after each use with warm soapy water.
• Create a stable environment.More than two-thirds of all kids say they want to eat healthy foods for lunch. If refrigeration is unavailable, consider packing shelf-stable foods such as trail mix, granola bars, bagels, carrot and celery sticks, whole fruit, single-serve containers of fruit, tuna, crackers and peanut butter.
The recent announcement by global fast-food giant McDonald’s that it will offer a healthier Happy Meal signifies a major shift in eating behavior and consumer trends. By reducing portion size of fries, including apples and offering a low-fat dairy option in Happy Meals, McDonald’s is showing a willingness to address childhood obesity. (Two bags of apples can be substituted for apples and fries.)
Because many children eat fast-food meals regularly, it is definitely a step in the right direction to add fiber, calcium and other nutrients, even in small amounts, and to reduce fat by 20 percent in these hugely popular meals.
Families can take a cue from fast-food restaurants, which increasingly are offering healthier side dishes and snacks. One of the best options is to eat healthy meals at home, limiting fast food meals so they are an occasional treat. A healthy lunch at school or brought from home is important as children head back to school and need the right sort of fuel to help them stay alert and healthy while they are learning. According to the American Dietetic Association, children who eat balanced snacks pay attention longer in class, make fewer mistakes on tests and generally have fewer behavioral problems.
At home provide a healthy supply of snacks that do not include high levels of processing, sugars and salt will help your child learn to enjoy fresh, natural foods. Remember to offer appropriate serving sizes of snacks to supplement, not replace, regular meals.
Here are some smart snack ideas:
• Non-sugared cereal
• Graham crackers
• Pretzels or plain popcorn
• Cheese, sliced or cubed
• Yogurt, kefir or low-fat pudding
• Whole grain bread or crackers
• Raw veggies, such as carrots, cucumbers, red peppers.
• Dried, non-sweetened fruit like raisins
• Cottage cheese
• Hard-boiled eggs
• Low-fat milk
Parents should also set rules for snacking. For example:
• Teach your kids to ask before they help themselves to snacks.
• Eat snacks at the table or in the kitchen, not in front of the TV.
• Serve snacks in a bowl, offering appropriate serving sizes. Don’t let kids eat snack foods directly out of the bag or box.
Healthy eating involves a certain amount of creativity and effort. For example, if your child asks for a snack after breakfast, offer a plain hard-cooked egg or whole grain toast with peanut butter which is high in protein and other nutrients and low in both calories and price. If the request arises in the afternoon, offer some fresh fruit.
Teach your child where food comes from by going to the garden (or visit one), and let him pick fresh vegetables he or she wants to eat. Letting children make decisions about this can make them feel empowered and to enjoy eating healthy.
Many groceries have expanded their fruit selection and regularly stock items that used to be hard to find or exotic. When in season, look for kiwi, gooseberries, currants, figs, papaya, mango, pineapple, pomegranates, plumcots, apricots and other different and seasonal fruit to break up the year-round standards of apples, oranges, pears and bananas. Introducing your family to variety and seasonality will make them savor each tasty and nutritious bite.
Grace Angotti is Carroll Co. Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to email@example.com.