By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
It’s that time of year again. Fading are the days of summer vacation fun and on the horizon are parent-teacher conferences, homework and packed school lunches.
A healthful lunch is an important part of a student’s development and learning process. Christina Fava, nutritionist and registered dietitian at the Montgomeryville Giant Food Store, said a child’s lunch can impact them physically and mentally. She said there are daily nutrients necessary to help a child learn better such as protein, calcium and fiber.
“If they’re eating healthy then they’re going to get the right nutrients to help them concentrate better,” Fava said.
She said a school lunch should always include calcium, a whole grain and either a fruit or vegetable. Dairy products with calcium like yogurt, milk or cheese is very important for children because it aids in bone development. A whole grain is a great source of fiber as are many fruits and vegetables. Fava said it’s also a good idea to include some type of lean protein in packed lunches such as turkey or chicken.
Parents short on time, especially with all the extra activities that come along with the school year, may be tempted to buy prepackaged lunches at the store. Fava said such items aren’t a healthy option for students especially on a regular basis. They are loaded with sodium, saturated fat and sugar. The prepackaged lunches are also more expensive than preparing boxed lunches at home.
Fava recommends parents short on time during the school week, plan ahead of time and prep early. She said use extra time on the weekends to start chopping veggies and fruits then dividing them into bags or containers. Snacks like popcorn, crackers and trail mix can also be divided into individual bags making it easier to grab and go during the week. Fava said parents can also have their children help make their lunches which will make it more likely that they eat the food.
When putting food into lunch boxes, it’s important to keep foods at safe temperatures. Items that need to stay cold like lunch meat, yogurt or cheese can be kept cool with a freezer pack. Fava said parents can event freeze a water bottle and use that as the cool pack. This will help prevent bacteria from growing when temperatures get too warm. Another way to keep foods safe is to use lunch box dividers.
“It will keep foods fresh then the flavors won’t run together,” Fava said.
She said the dividers will also help remind parents to include several food groups when packing a lunch. There are of course the typical lunch box items but sometimes they may not always be the healthiest or have the most nutrients. Fava recommends several healthy food swaps for some common school lunch options.
HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCH FOOD SWAPS
Peanut butter and jelly on white bread: First it’s important to check your child’s school polity on nuts because many children are allergic. If the school does allow peanut butter then use a natural kind without added sugars. Also use whole grain bread or a wrap then add fruit like bananas or berries. If the school is peanut-free then another great option is sunflower seed butter.
Bologna sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise: Instead of bologna use a leaner lunch meat like turkey. Try to use a low-fat cheese option like two percent. Replace the white bread with a whole grain option like a wrap. Instead of using mayonnaise, do turkey and hummus or turkey and avocados.
Potato chips: There are healthier options that still have a crunch factor. Some examples are air-popped popcorn or homemade kale chips without the preservatives that prepackaged items have.
Fruit rollups or fruit snacks: Giant Food Stores sell a product called peeled snacks which are dried fruits like mangos and apples without added sugars. A box of raisins is also a great alternative to fruit snacks.
Fruit cups with juice or syrup: The juice and syrup can have a lot of added sugars and sweeteners. It’s best to buy fruit cups that are packed in water.
For more about Giant Food Stores including their healthy ideas shelf tag program, visit the website giantfoodstores.com/live-well/health-and-wellness/healthy-ideas. For more healthy living stories including recipes, visit the Fit for Life website www.pottsmercfit4life.com.