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updated: 9/6/2011 1:20 PM

Healthy school lunches

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  • Whole-grain tortilla stuffed with carrots and raisins will refuel kids for anternoon learning.

      Whole-grain tortilla stuffed with carrots and raisins will refuel kids for anternoon learning.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer


With kids returning to school, it is time to think about how important school lunch is for fueling your child's body and brain.

Children will decide what they actually eat at the lunch table, but parents stack the deck in favor of healthy eating by packing a variety of tasty and nutritious foods. By making lunch at home (versus buying a school lunch) you can make sure your child's favorite healthy foods are available each day. Have your child help you make lunch and include some fun-to-eat, dip-and-dunk foods like hummus and raw vegetables or apples and peanut butter.

A healthy lunch box is one that provides energy, helps children grow and maintains good health by including food from three or more food groups. That means:

lean protein such as poultry without the skin, fish, lean beef or pork, beans, hard boiled eggs, soy or nuts and nut butters.

color and crunch when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Choose a rainbow of fruits and vegetables with a variety textures. If your child doesn't like crunchy foods, consider canned fruit in its own juice.

low-fat dairy in the form of milk or yogurt that can be purchased at school or cheese-sticks (which can also count in the lean protein category).

whole grain breads, crackers, cereal bars, pretzels, or popcorn. Look for products with the whole grain stamp.

If your child resists whole grain bread, try cutting sandwiches into fun shapes. Or grab a whole grain tortilla to make a wrap sandwich filled with a salad, lean meat, or peanut butter and fruit.

Whole grain pita pockets filled with a lean proteins and veggies is another good choice. Or, make a pita pizza with melted low-fat shredded cheese and vegetables. Prepare the pizza the night before school, refrigerate, and serve cold in your child's lunch.

Keep lunch items cool with insulated lunch containers and a bottle of frozen water or a frozen 100 percent juice box that will thaw during the morning and be ready to drink at lunch time.

Remember that lunch will only refuel kids for afternoon learning and activities if they actually eat lunch. Surveys have shown that children model their food choices after their parents, so remember these healthy lunch ideas are not just for kids.

The whole family can benefit from fun, healthy lunches at school or at work.

• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.