Pack Nutrition into Your Child’s School Lunch

How can a busy mom encourage her kids to eat healthy at school now that the USDA will allow states to relax school lunch standards? The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required schools to cut calories, fat, and sodium in their cafeteria offerings. The law also called on schools to put more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nonfat milk on the plates of students receiving federally subsidized meals.

But now the USDA is rolling back standards. States that have difficulty meeting whole grain standards for the new school year can receive exemptions. Schools will be allowed to substitute 1 percent flavored milk for nonfat milk. Sodium mandates will be delayed.

Encouraging children to make nutritious choices in a world filled with doughnuts and potato chips can be a struggle. Start at home with these strategies. You’ll notice these tricks are useful also for a harried mother who wants to incorporate extra nutrition for herself. Add some to your own lunches and snacks while you pack lunches for your kids.

Make breakfast count

Morning is a great time to introduce some fiber. Kid-friendly choices are cereals that offer at least 5 grams of fiber, 5 grams protein, and less than 10 grams of sugar. Whole grain breads, cereals, pancakes, or oats offer nutritional punch.

Whip up a double batch of multigrain pancakes on the weekend and serve them up for on-the-run weekday breakfasts.

Find room for fruits or vegetables at snack time

Offer up a fruit or vegetable at every snack time to slip in extra fiber and micronutrients. Snacks can fill in nutritional gaps; try serving raw carrots or snap peas. Add a healthy dip, such as hummus, black bean dip, or guacamole.

If your children are reluctant to chow down on whole veggies, make them fruit and vegetable-based smoothies as a nutritious alternative. Even more appealing can be baked or dried fruit.

Give them whole milk instead

Whole milk and full-fat yogurts are creamier and more filling than nonfat or 1 percent flavored milk, and these alternatives contain only natural milk sugars. Flavored milks can contain double the sugar, and half of that is added sugar.

If chocolate milk is on the menu, encourage them to go for the whole milk instead of 1 percent option.

Introduce whole grains at home.

Introduce whole grains in familiar meals and snacks at home.  Then ry them in sandwiches, crackers, and popcorn that kids take to school. Exploring whole grains with your children to explain why they are important in growing up strong and healthy.

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