More than 15 percent of American children are overweight, and that percentage is growing, according to the National Institutes of Health. One way parents can improve the health of their children is to offer nutritious, kid-pleasing options for meals and snacks, including school lunches.
Oldways Preservation Trust, a think tank that promotes healthful eating, has a new printable school lunch planner on its Web site, www.oldwayspt .org, to help parents pack more creative, better-tasting nutritious lunches. The planner, part of the organization's School Lunch Plus program, lists breads, spreads, sandwich fixings, vegetables, fruit, treats, drinks and snacks from which a child can choose to build a well-balanced lunch.
"It's really a way to mix and match so that individual tastes and preferences can be taken into account," says Sara Baer-Sinnott, executive vice president of Oldways Preservation Trust. "I have a child who eats peanut butter and jelly every day, but there are different things you can put with peanut butter."
Although some of the suggestions may be new tastes for your child, Baer-Sinnott says parents shouldn't hesitate to introduce new healthful foods to their children. "You'll never know if they'll like it," Baer-Sinnott says. "Sometimes kids do better if their parents are not looming over them."
KidsHealth, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Nemour's Foundation, a charitable organization devoted to improving the health of children, offers general lunch-packing tips on its Web site, www.kidshealth.org.
One suggestion is to vary the kind of bread, using multigrain or raisin bread, bagels, rolls, pitas or English muffins. Another is to buy juice drinks made from 100 percent juice. KidsHealth also suggests buying thick slices of luncheon meats, then using animal-shaped cookie cutters to make lean cuts of turkey, ham or roast beef more appealing.
When buying snack foods, parents need to be careful about the amount of trans fatty acids they contain. Many snack foods are high in trans fat because they are made with partially hydrated vegetable oils to preserve the food and its taste.
Here are a few of Oldways' menu suggestions for school lunch bags this fall:
* Chicken-and-cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread, sliced peppers, cherries, apple juice, a small bag of no-trans-fat animal crackers.
* Ham-and-cheese sandwich on pita bread, strawberries, milk and no-trans-fat graham crackers.
* Noodles and chopped vegetables with cheese chunks, popcorn, decaffeinated iced tea and fruit roll-ups.
* Tortilla rolled up with red beans, salsa and guacamole; mixed berries, water and trail mix.
* Avocado spread on lavosh bread with tomatoes, a pear, a granola bar and decaffeinated iced tea.