September 21, 2021 by John Fernandez
A Healthy Lunchbox: As Easy As 1-2-3
As you ready back-to-school preparations, don’t forget healthy lunches. Ensuring a healthy future for our children starts with a healthy lifestyle based on daily physical activity, adequate sleep and nutritious meals, including school lunches.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 91 percent of children in the U.S. have a poor diet. They tend to eat too much salt, sugar and fat, increasing the risk of having heart disease as an adult.
Lunch is an important time for kids to refuel their minds for classroom success — and for after-school sports. It may be a daunting task to pack something that is healthy AND appealing to kids. Baptist Health Registered Dietician Lucette Talamas provides simple tips and healthy snack hacks.
Making a healthy lunch box is as easy as 1-2-3
- Lunch box safety. Your child can choose a “cool” lunch box, but make sure it is insulated to keep food safe. Rule of thumb: Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
- The 5 food groups. Plan to include as many food group choices based on My Plate guidelines. Here are a few lunch box-friendly ideas:
Add veggies to a sandwich, including sliced bell peppers, cucumbers or dark leafy greens. Pack a bag of cut carrots or celery with a bean dip like hummus.
The list is endless. Alternate choices by offering what is in season and thinking beyond apples and bananas! Pack extra for an after-school snack.
Offer a variety of lean proteins, including chicken or turkey, hard-boiled eggs or tuna. Other options include plant-based protein sources like beans and lentils (mmm chili).
Aim for half of your grain choices to be whole grain, including whole grain bread, rice or pasta. Use caution with whole grain cereals and bars, which may be loaded with added sugar.
If your child is bringing a home-packed lunch, it may also be possible to buy a milk carton at school. Low-fat cheese or yogurt can also be included in their lunches.
- Beware of added sugars. From fruit jelly, fruity snacks, cereal bars and sugary drinks, the amount of added sugars can really build up in one lunch box. Before purchasing packaged items, review the Nutrition Facts label for grams of sugar and ingredients list to identify products that have less sugar, or even better – no added sugar.
Easy Eats From the 5 Food Groups:
Cold Pasta Primavera Salad
2 cups whole wheat rotini pasta, cooked
1 cup shelled edamame, cooked
1 cup broccoli, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
¼ cup black olives, sliced
Dressing of choice (olive oil, red wine vinegar, and oregano used here)
Salt and pepper to taste
- Boil pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain and allow to cool.
- While the pasta is boiling and cooling, rinse vegetables under running water and slice accordingly.
- Once pasta has cooled, toss all ingredients in a large bowl. Add small amount of a dressing (i.e. a vinaigrette) and toss.
- Refrigerate for at least an hour for maximum flavor.
Roasted Beets Hummus
- 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained – reserving liquid
- ¼ cup tahini
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- Paprika, olive oil and parsley for garnish
- Combine all ingredients except garnish in a mini food processor and begin to process on ‘puree’ setting.
- Add reserved chickpea liquid (~1-2 tbsp.) to make a smooth puree.
- Best served if chilled for 1-2 hours.
Black Bean Quesadilla
2 flour tortillas, whole wheat
1/3 cup shredded cheese, such as Mexican style four cheese blend (with part skim mozzarella)
½ cup black beans, drained and rinsed with water
- Place one tortilla on skillet over medium heat. Add cheese and then beans, distributing evenly. Add second tortilla. Allow to warm for 1-2 minutes until lightly brown and crispy.
- Using a large flip spatula, flip and allow to warm for an additional 1-2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool. Slice into quarters.
- Serve with avocado, salsa, and/or a fresh side salad.
Quick Backpack Snacks
String Cheese: “Paying attention to the My Plate, something as simple as packing a string cheese can serve as a great source of dairy.”
Fruit: “Bananas, apples and oranges are backpack-friendly fruit,” says Talamas. “It’s great for the afternoon when they get out of school and need a little boost.”
Ice Pack Hack: If you’re sending your child off to school with a lunch box, make sure it’s insulated. “Especially being down here in sunny South Florida, it’s important to keep the lunch cool,” says Talamas. If you don’t have an ice pack, try freezing a yogurt. Not only will it keep the food cold, but it also serves as a perfect after-school snack.
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