Kids consume between 35 to 40 percent of their daily calories while at school, so it’s important for parents to make an effort to ensure the snacks and meals they eat during the school day are nutritious.
While most schools serve healthy, balanced lunches under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010, parents who pack lunch for their child should make sure their child’s midday meal has a healthy mix of all the food groups.
Looking for ways to boost the nutritional content of your child’s meals and snacks while also appeasing a picky palate? The nutrition experts at Sodexo, the largest employer of registered dieticians in the country, have a few tips.
Tips for creating a healthy lunch
The following tips were designed “to remind parents and students that making smart, balanced food and beverage choices is essential to a healthy lifestyle -- whether eating at home or at school,” said Roxanne Moore, national director of wellness for Sodexo Schools.
"We want families to work together to make healthier, more nutritious food and beverage choices with less saturated fat, added sugars and sodium without having to sacrifice the flavor, enjoyment and love of food,” she said.
To do so, the experts at Sodexo recommend keeping in mind the following advice while putting together your child’s school lunch.
- Keep it balanced. All the food groups are essential in helping to ensure your child stays healthy. Make sure to include grains, lean proteins, colorful fruits and veggies, and low-fat dairy foods in your child’s lunch. Drinkable or squeezable yogurt can help your child meet their three daily servings of dairy. Cut-up fruits and sliced vegetables paired with a low-fat dip, peanut butter, or hummus can help round out the meal.
- Throw in a protein. To help your child stay focused in the classroom and power through their busy school day, add a protein such as tuna, turkey, chicken or a plant-based option like edamame, beans, or tofu. In addition to packing a protein in your child’s lunch, be sure to send them off to school with some protein already in their system. You can opt for something quick and portable like hard boiled eggs, a smoothie with milk or yogurt, or peanut butter on whole grain bread.
- Get creative. Fruits and veggies can be surreptitiously incorporated into many elements of your child’s lunch, from avocado as a sandwich spread to banana on a peanut butter sandwich. Pasta salads can be embellished with veggies like cherry tomatoes, spinach, broccoli florets, or bell pepper or zucchini slices.
- Stick to water or milk. Skip the sugary beverages and opt for water or milk instead. “For kids of all ages, water and milk are the best beverage choices,” say the nutrition experts at Sodexo. Water is a zero-calorie beverage choice that will help your child stay hydrated, and milk can help provide calcium. Soy milk can be used as a dairy alternative if your child has an allergy -- just be sure to read labels to compare amounts of added sugars.
To see how many calories your child should be consuming per day and find healthy recipes for creating a balanced meal, check out the resources available ChooseMyPlate.