Sack unhealthy lunches
BY NOUR HABIB World Scene Writer
Monday, January 28, 2013
1/28/13 at 7:38 AM
It's halfway through the school year and you may be running out of ideas of healthy lunches to send with your child.
Dietitians remind parents that the meals they send with their children should be balanced, as well as high in nutrients that can help the kids stay alert and energized during the school day.
Two Tulsa dietitians offer tips on what to look for when selecting food items to send with your children and ideas on creating healthy yet practical meals that you can use to fill their lunchboxes.
At the grocery store
Becky Porter, a dietitian at the Tulsa City-County Health Department, recommends that parents find less processed choices for packed lunches.
"Processed foods tend to contain more sugar, fat and sodium, which need to be reduced in our diet," Porter said. "Processed foods also have reduced amounts of healthy nutrients such as fiber."
When reading labels, choose whole grain or whole wheat bread, avoid trans-fat and select items with a low amount of sodium, Porter said. Also, remember that label ingredients "are listed in order of concentration, so if sugar is one of the first ingredients on a label, that food items contains a significant amount of sugar."
And as a quick tip, look for labels with shorter ingredient lists because they indicate that the food item is less processed, she said.
Lisa Griffin, a dietitian and the director of child nutrition at Union Public Schools, said when selecting food for your child, make sure to send some "brain foods," or foods that help the brain function better.
High-energy food sources include fruits, vegetables and yogurt, which will all help keep your child more attentive and will also help with memory. Other foods that are good for the brain include lean turkey, tuna, eggs and nuts, Griffin said.
Also, avoid high-fat foods. "They make you feel sleepy, and you don't want to be sleepy at school," Griffin said.
Porter and Griffin recommend water over juice or sports drinks.
"Both juice and sports drinks can add a significant amount of sugar and calories to children's diets," Porter said.
"With increasing childhood health problems that are related to increasing weight, we should encourage children and families to eat their calories, not drink them."
Some parents may worry that their children will not eat the healthy food they pack.
Griffin spends time in school cafeterias and says she often sees kids trading lunch items or throwing them away. She suggests talking to your kids about why you're packing certain items, explaining that the foods you give them will help them grow and do better in class.
She also suggests involving them in the preparation.
"Let them help pick the lunch," she said. "If you let them help prepare and make decisions, they do better as far as eating it.
Porter said even if you think your child will not like the healthy items, send them anyway.
"Exposure to these types of foods ... will make those foods more familiar and increase the likelihood that they become part of a healthy, life-long diet," Porter said.
"My daughters may not always eat these healthy choices in their lunches but by having them in our house and serving them in their lunches these more wholesome choices become the norm."
Healthy lunch options
Dietitians Lisa Griffin and Becky Porter suggest healthy items to pack in a child's lunch:
Lean turkey, fish (such as tuna) or eggs
Pretzels, unbuttered popcorn, trail mix or whole-grain cereals instead of chips
A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread (use soy nut butter or sunflower seed butter if allergies are a concern)
Wraps in whole-grain tortillas
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Crackers and low-fat cheese
Home-baked items if you've used healthier ingredients in the recipe (such as with wheat flour and healthy oils)
Nour Habib 918-581-8369
Healthy lunches help kids do better in school. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World