Brown-bagged or not, many school lunches contain too much fat, sugar, sodium, and carbohydrates and not enough fruit and vegetables. Studies have shown that access to high-calorie, low-nutrient foods in many school cafeterias causes children to have higher BMIs and increases their risk of obesity. Give your child a delicious alternative by providing a healthy packed lunch from home.
It’s no secret that sugary drinks can lead to weight gain. If you’re buying juice boxes, choose juices that say they are “100 percent juice” or look for low-sugar options—all fruit juices are required to display the percentage of juice on the product packaging. If your child purchases milk at school, encourage him to choose fat free or 1 percent. Whole and 2 percent milk are leading sources of saturated fat in children’s diets.
Snacks and Sides
Save goodies like chips, cookies and other baked goods for a weekend treat, and opt for fruits and vegetables as lunchtime sides. If your child isn’t thrilled about this swap, offer her a new fruit or vegetable each week until you find one she likes. Make side dishes more fun to eat by packing fruit or veggie skewers and pairing them with dips like low-fat yogurt, nut butter, salad dressing, or hummus.
The Main Event
If you’re packing a sandwich as the main course in your child’s lunch, pile it high with even more vegetables, like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber slices, avocado, or bell peppers . Use only low-fat and fat-free cheeses, and choose whole-grain breads (pita pockets are a great way to pack in lots of veggies). Although lunch meats are convenient, they are highly processed, often contain many fillers, can be high in sodium, and are very expensive. Instead, thinly slice chicken, turkey, roast beef, or other meats left over from dinner the night before. These are healthier, fresher, more affordable, and often much tastier than deli meats.