For Not only is September back to school for the kids, it’s also National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Given that one in three children are either overweight or obese, September is the ideal time for a “check-up” on healthy eating. This week’s column offers 5 idea sparks for packing a healthy lunch for both the time-starved and for the “James Beard-Martha Stewart-Like” parent.
Read the labels: Regardless of your time allowance for lunch preparation, read your labels. You may be surprised to find out some yogurts in a tube contain close to a tablespoon of sugar, and the tube is only a little over 2 ounces. Minimize the pre-packaged snacks which often contain refined vegetable oils, trans fat and/or hydrogenated oils which are linked to heart disease and obesity. Remember, ingredients are listed in order of amount. so if sugar (or worse ~ high fructose corn syrup), is first or second in the listing, consider healthier options. Also, be wary of artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners.
Think outside the box: Skip the traditional sandwiches, and pack healthy breakfast or dinner style meal. Whole wheat pancakes or sweet potato waffles, served with fresh fruit gets in a dose of only whole grains and/or a “secret” dose of vitamin A and C that sweet potatoes offer. Whole wheat pasta primavera made with a rainbow of vegetables or a beef and broccoli with whole wheat soba noodles will have the other lunchers taking notice. Baked tortillas chips served with salsa, avocado, low fat cheese and plain greek yogurt provides nutrition home run ~ veggies, protein, vitamins and fiber.
Get the kids involved: Offer healthy options and let them decide. When selecting possible options for their picking, remember the rule of thumb when grocery shopping – the perimeter of the super market has the healthiest options – fresh fruits & veggies, proteins, and dairy, generally make up the outside walls. Keep your options there as well.
Fun Packaging: A gift received in a brown paper bag probably doesn’t have the “wow” factor of the same gift beautifully wrapped in pretty paper and a bow, so consider packaging your healthy lunch in something that will knock their socks off. Bento-Box lunch containers, re-useable cupcake molds, frilly tooth picks spears and the like can add the “wow” factor to healthy fruits and veggies. Also consider a few sandwich cut outs; in just a few seconds you can press out fun shaped sandwiches, pumpkins in the fall, stars for the winter holidays, lots of options!
Make lunch Interesting: Together choose a theme for lunch, or for a twist let the kids guess the theme, let the creative juices flow and the possibilities are endless. If “red” is the color of the day, think strawberries and watermelon kabobs, and red pepper & cherry tomatoes with a side of hummus. The letter “C” could include chicken, carrots and cheese. If you need a “spark” Pinterest is a great resource, just remember the idea is to keep lunch healthy.
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