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Packing a powerful kid-friendly lunch PDF Print E-mail
Written by Holyoke Enterprise   

Parents know that one of the biggest challenges in raising kids is getting them to eat right. With busier-than-ever schedules and hurried mornings, many parents choose the convenience of school lunches, but do you really know what your kids are eating?

Amrit Devgun, ND, a naturopathic practitioner at Northwestern Health Sciences University’s Natural Care Center at Woodwinds in Woodbury, Minn., says, “The problem is that families today are too busy and they don’t have time to provide quality nutrition for their kids.” Taking the easy route in the morning may save you some time, but can lead to trouble for your kids down the road.

According to Devgun, kids who eat a healthy, balanced diet have a lower risk overall of chronic disease. Deficiencies in childhood often take a lifetime to show up. Other benefits of eating well include:

—Stronger bones;

—Stronger immune system;

—Higher levels of concentration and focus;

—Less moodiness;

—Healthy weight and body mass index; and

—Positive body image.

With after-school and evening activities creeping into the dinner hour, providing a healthy lunch is more important than ever, says Devgun. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 28 million lunches are served each day at U.S. schools, at a cost of $8 billion per year. Yet, childhood obesity and childhood diabetes are on the rise.

School lunches often don’t measure up, says Devgun. “Many school lunches are high in refined grains, refined sugars, saturated fat and trans fat. There are very few choices for fresh fruits and vegetables. The vegetables they do offer are often over-cooked—who wants to eat that?”

What’s a parent to do? “Get involved,” says Devgun. “Find out what’s happening at your child’s school. Check the lunch menu. Are kids allowed to have a water bottle at their desk? Is soda available? Is there a scheduled snack time?” Devgun joined the nutrition task force at her daughter’s school, where she stressed the value of offering fresh vegetables and fruits for lunch.

You don’t have to join a committee. With a few simple strategies, parents can ensure that their child is armed with the proper nutrition to get through the school day. Devgun offers these tips:

—Make sure your child has plenty of water. Reduce or eliminate juice drinks.

—Read labels, and know what you’re reading. Sugars and sugar substitutes are listed in many forms. It’s only whole-grain if the label says “100 percent” whole-grain.

—Check serving sizes. On many pre-packaged lunch foods, half the package is one serving.

—Reduce or eliminate processed foods. Try filling your grocery cart with 70 percent fresh.

—Offer a healthy breakfast, consisting of a whole-grain cereal or bread paired with protein. Pack a lunch from home when possible. The high-fat, high-sugar choices often found on school lunch menus can induce a mid-afternoon slump.

—Shop wisely. Choose low-sugar varieties in products such as ketchup, syrup, cereal and granola bars; whole-grain breads and crackers (even frozen waffles come in whole-grain varieties!); and serve fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible.

—Get back to basics. According to Devgun, kids’ tastes have changed in adaptation to the foods that are available. When you wean them from sugar and fat, your child’s palate will eventually adjust and they will no longer crave those foods.

—Think outside the lunch box. Lunch doesn’t have to be a sandwich and an apple. Be creative. String cheese and ham or turkey cut into “sticks” with a piece of fruit is a great lunch.

For additional resources, visit www.nwhealth.edu/nns, a Web site focusing on natural approaches to health and wellness hosted by Northwestern Health Sciences University.