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Send kids back to school with healthy meals, snacks

by jmaloni
Fri, Sep 6th 2013 09:30 pm

by the American Heart Association

You've got the kids' backpacks ready with notebooks, pencils and paper, but what's your plan for packing healthy back-to-school lunches?

The American Heart Association recommends packing a healthy lunch at home to ensure that kids get the nutrition they need without all the fat, calories and salt found in convenience foods and many school lunch meals. Too much salt, calories and fat can contribute to long-term health issues like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Today, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese; nearly triple the rate in 1963. Among children today, obesity is causing health problems that previously weren't seen until adulthood, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol levels. (Source: 2011 American Heart Association Understanding Childhood Obesity Statistical Sourcebook)

Starting strong

Healthy eating really starts before your child even leaves for school. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Breakfast can be traditional, like cereal, toast with peanut butter, and a banana, or it can be something different. Leftover pizza or fish could be breakfast food. The important aspect is to eat breakfast and get protein and fiber to start your day their day off strong.

Tips on packing healthy lunches

When packing a healthy lunch, experts suggest choosing from the rainbow of foods in your supermarket's produce department. Include foods that are red (red peppers, apples, tomatoes), orange (carrots, peaches), green (salad, celery sticks) and choose foods from the different food groups.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded in 2005 with the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, suggests including one serving of vegetables or salad and one serving of fruit (fresh, canned or dried all count); one serving of a low-fat or fat-free milk or dairy item such as a low-fat cheese stick, a yogurt cup, or some cottage cheese; plus one serving of meat, chicken, fish, eggs, peanut butter, beans or another protein source.

Pack healthy drinks such as water or low-fat milk.

Another idea is to keep an ice pack in your child's lunchbox. The perishable foods can stay cold and be safe to eat.

Not the same old sandwich

Pack hummus with fresh veggies and whole wheat pita triangles or flatbreads for dipping. Hummus is a good low-fat protein source and is high in iron and vitamin C. Or try low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese with carrots, cherry tomatoes, fresh berries, or melon for a calcium-rich, high-protein lunch.

Salads topped with lean protein like hard-boiled eggs, beans or chicken are a great alternative to sandwiches and they help get kids on track with their daily vegetable servings. In a hurry? Buy bags of lettuce or precut carrots or make extra salad for dinner then pack the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Didn't pack a lunch? There are many options to choose from in the lunch line at school, some of them are healthier than others. Encourage kids to choose fruits and vegetables instead of french fries or chips and ask for grilled meat instead of fried.

Try to get the school menu ahead of time and go through it with your child and talk about healthy choices. If they have a healthy option in mind, they might be less tempted to go for the unhealthy food.

Hungry after school?

When it comes to after school snacks, think energy, not fatty, high-calorie. Good snacks can include whole grain pretzels, baby carrots or fruit. Fruit can be dried, canned, or fresh. You can even stick bananas or grapes in the freezer for something different.

Cereal is not just for breakfast. High-fiber, low sugar cereals are fortified with vitamins and nutrients. Pour a serving size and add low-fat or skim milk for a satisfying snack that most kids can get for themselves.

Not all granola bars are created equal. Choose whole grain granola bars that are low in fat and sugar - take a look at the food label and choose the ones that contain less than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving and are no more than 35 percent sugar by weight. Make sure there's at least 5 grams of protein.

For more information and recipes, visit the American Heart Association at www.heart.org/healthierkids.

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