Simple Steps for a Healthy Weight :Making School Lunch Healthy
September is back-to-school time - and the perfect time to think about school lunches. Whether kids eat in the school cafeteria or carry a Spiderman lunchbox, there's good news on the menu.
"Lunch at school is important for two main reasons," says Katie Bark, a registered dietitian who is co-chair of Montana Action for Healthy Kids and coordinator of Montana's Team Nutrition programs. "A mid-day meal provides brain food that kids need for afternoon classes and homework. A healthy lunch also helps maintain a strong body for after-school athletics and activities like dance and music lessons."
Meals funded by USDA's Child Nutrition Programs, including breakfast and lunch, must meet specific guidelines for menu balance and fat content. School lunches served in kid-sized portions are nutritious and appealing. A May 2004 study showed that kids who eat school lunch consume 29 percent fewer calories from fat and twice as many fruits and vegetables than kids who eat a typical bag lunch.
According to Bark, parents can play an important role in creating healthy nutrition environments at local schools.
"Read the menus carefully, visit the cafeteria, buy a meal to eat with your child, and talk to foodservice staff about the healthy changes they are making. If you see room for improvement, look for constructive ways to support positive changes - like through PTA/PTO or other parent groups."
Families can also create lunchbox makeovers at home - packing fun, nutritious meals for optimal performance. All it takes is five items: a fruit, a veggie, a whole grain, a protein, and a dairy food. It's as easy as a lean roast beef sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato, a single-serving cup of canned fruit, and a carton of low-fat milk purchased at school. You can also cover the nutrition bases with peanut butter on crackers or rice cakes, string cheese, baby carrots, and a box of 100% juice.
Eat Right Montana, a statewide coalition promoting healthful eating and active lifestyles, urges Montanans to take a fresh look at school lunch. Support healthy changes in school cafeterias and look for new lunch treats at the supermarket - like drinkable yogurts and individual packs of fresh fruit slices.
"Small changes make nutrition fun," says Bark. "Give your peanut butter sandwich a new shape with a cookie cutter, or try 'zebra bread' - white bread on one side and whole wheat on the other!"
Reprinted with the permission of the Montana Workforce Services Division.
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