Kids all over are gearing up for the start of school and before the daily homework assignments kick in, parents have their own homework to do – the ABCs of good school lunches.
A: Always have a balance.
“There are no absolutes when it comes to nutrition,” said Don Mankie, a registered dietitian with Carilion Clinic’s Dining and Nutrition Services. “Remember to include a lean protein, whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables.” Mankie recommends the 90-10 rule. Try and eat healthy 90 percent of the time and indulge 10 percent of the time. Easier said than done, right? But making sure your kids eat healthy isn’t that tough. It starts with you.
B: Be a good role model.
“It all starts at home. Parents usually make the decisions when it comes to what food is being purchased. Make good choices and typically kids will follow by example,” Mankie said. “Having a good, healthy environment at home helps kids get involved, wanting to make healthy decisions on their own.”
C: Color is important.
It’s easy to fall into a routine when it comes to packing school lunches, but take a step back and look at the colors. “A meal should be colorful, representing many of the food groups,” Mankie said. “If the meal is all brown that’s probably not great.” But if your child always likes eating the same thing, don’t panic. Look at the other meals – breakfast, dinner and weekends. Do these have a good balance of the food groups?
If so, don’t panic about lunch, but challenge your kids to try new things. “Place new things in your child’s lunch each week, if they try it, that’s a plus; if not, maybe they’ll share it with a friend,” he said. “If the friend eats the item and enjoys it, your child may eventually branch out as well.”
What’s the one thing to avoid so you don’t get an “F” on your child’s lunch?
Steer clear of processed foods. “Highly processed, pre-packaged lunches are not very nutritious. These tend to be high in fat, salt and sugar, as well as, low in fiber.
They simply aren’t great,” Mankie said While those may be easy in a time crunch, planning ahead can make all the difference. “We’re all busy, especially in the mornings,” Mankie said. “Being relaxed about meal planning and not putting too much pressure on yourself or your child can help you be more thoughtful about food choices and can make a huge difference in your child having a well-balanced diet.”
It’s important to note if your child has special needs or allergies, you should consult a specialist on a proper diet.
Always talk with your pediatrician first to discuss the proper referral. As your kids get ready to head back to school, be sure you can make the grade when it comes to their lunches.
If you have questions about diet or nutrition, we’re here to help. Click here to ask one of our dietitians a question.