Are Your Kids Eating Healthy Lunches?

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The State of New Jersey’s Department of Health has recently reported that 10% of preschoolers and 15% of children between the ages of 9-16 are extremely over weight. Experts say this is directly attributed to the lack of physical activity and sub par eating habits that the youth today have. Combating this, however, is very easy. Promoting recreational activity and varying a child’s diet, starting with what they eat at school for lunch, can effectively reverse the damage being done to the body.

As of July 1st, 2012, The United States Department of Agriculture- Food and Nutrition Service changed the national recommendations for what children in grades K-12 should be eating. It is stated that, ¾ to one cup of vegetables should be consumed everyday and should vary in type i.e., dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, and starchy. At least ½ a cup of fruits should be eaten each day, as well. Additionally, children in grades K-12 should be eating an average of 8-12 ounces of meat a week. Similarly, 8-10 ounces of grains is ideal per week. The USDA has also recommended that at least 1 ounce of milk should be consumed everyday. This new change in diet is different from the previous Food Pyramid that many may remember.

Lisa LaMarca, HealthQuest’s Registered Dietician, says, “The Food Plate is more realistic for families to use and better visualization for the eye. The recommendations seem to be more accurate, realistic, and family-friendly.” The mission of the new Food Plate is balance. Instead of attention being paid to a particular food group, it is suggested that each food group be consumed equally and in moderation. When approaching school lunches, LaMarca says,Focus on whole grains, fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean protein sources and lots of fresh fruits.  Less on processed white flour i.e. bread, cookies, and snack cakes. Cheese sticks, Greek yogurt and soups in thermos are great choices for lunch and snacks.” Knowing this, the aforementioned information can be applied to the way parents approach preparing their children’s school lunches and ultimately their family meals in general.

For children who receive lunch from Food Services at school—the transition from what kids are used to eating, to what is now required to be served by the federal government, has not been so smooth. Janet Reid, a Registered Dietician working for the East Amwell Department of Education, has observed that within the first month of the 2012-2013 school year, the purchasing of school provided lunches went down 30-40% from their usual numbers. Children, especially the younger group, are not responding to the changes in their usual favorites like chicken nuggets, which are now whole grain chicken nuggets, or pasta, which is now whole-wheat pasta. Reid has also observed that although there have been adjustments made in fat content, the fat has been supplemented by an excess of sugar. She states, “Take for example school milk, although they are now lower in fat, the fat has been replaced with 14-17 teaspoons of sugar, in just one eight ounce container.” Reid says, “It all starts in the home.” Educated parents produce educated children.  Being vocal and practicing healthy eating habits at home will help children take that knowledge and apply it to what they eat outside of the home.

As a consequence of the new policies, many grade schools have reduced time for childrens’ “recess,” a time for children to take a brake and just play. In middle schools and high schools, that valuable time is voided all together.  LaMarca adds, “Be more aware of smarter food choices and options to increase activity through family events and community based programs that promote healthy eating and fun ways to stay active and burn calories.  Obesity is a multi-faceted disease that can be preventable in most cases.” Luckily however, HealthQuest Family Fitness offers a variety of programs that can act as a supplement for kids and teens lacking physical activity. The indoor Sport Center and  swimming pools are great places in the facility for families to utilize on together.  The Club also offers childrens’ classes including dance, gymnastics, martial arts, cheerleading, basketball, soccer and more.  For more information contact Lisa LaMarca at or visit to learn more about their youth and adult programs.

 HealthQuest Family Fitness is a premier fitness club founded in 2001 that boasts an impressive 104,000 square foot facility on a 20-acre campus.  Located on Route 31 in scenic Hunterdon County, New Jersey, HealthQuest is a family-friendly club that offers members all-inclusive access to over 150 group fitness classes, a fitness floor with over 300 pieces of strength and conditioning equipment, a state-of-the-art TechnoGym, indoor pool, track, and Sport Center.  For more information, call (908) 782-4009 or visit

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