The recent heat wave (perfect weather for playing outside!) didn’t deter our SMArt kids from being “smart” and participating in this month’s SMArt kids SMA. We focused on healthy lunches, and the overriding theme of the SMA was “brown bag it!”
Although local schools are starting to heed the calls for healthier school lunches, nutritious school meals are not always easy to find. Our SMArt kids know this from visiting their own school lunch line. As a group, we reviewed lunch menus from surrounding towns. We were floored at the menu items listed on local school lunch calendars. Although some healthy alternatives are offered, many menus seem to be overrun with chicken patties, flavored milk, peanut butter & fluff and tater tots. It takes ”smarts” and willpower to make the best choice, not to mention resisting the peer pressure from friends in line. One solution: bring lunch from home.
Making lunch at home enables parents and children to manage what is available at lunchtime. It allows families to control portion sizes, encourage variety and work toward healthy goals such as five fruits and veggies per day. Let’s admit it, though: preparing lunches can seem like a lot of work. It can feel tedious and at times overwhelming. Many parents open the fridge on a Monday morning and realize the brown bag options are sparse.
Here are some tips that may help with the brown bag blues.
- Get your kids involved; they can help pick, prep and bag!
- Keep a list of lunch options taped to the fridge or pantry wall so you never run out of ideas
- Buy items in bulk and prep for the week by placing snacks in zip lock bags (pretzels or granola for example)
- Change up the type of whole grain bread for those sandwiches. Try new grains and seeds. Always aim for 3 grams of fiber per slice.
- Send leftovers to mix things up (and save some money)
- Greek Yogurt is a healthy and already-prepared, easy to pack food
- Chop the veggies on Sunday evening so they ready for the week. Or try some naturally prepared veggies like snap peas, edamame or baby carrots (no work involved)
- Try crackers and cheese for a change of pace
- Consider a burrito or wrap instead of your typical sandwich bread
- Instead of the usual ranch dip, try hummus (of any flavor!) with carrots, celery, bell peppers or even pretzels
- Make some hard-boiled eggs ahead of time and toss them into lunches when you are in a rush
- Salads can be a great lunch solution. Try something novel yet kid-friendly. How about a tomato and corn salad? You’ll need 1 large tomato, diced, 3 tbsp. black beans, 3 tbsp. frozen corn, 2 tbsp. salsa. Toss and pack in a single portion container. Colorful, easy and delicious.
Of course, not everyone can pack a daily lunch. When faced with the lunch line, remember some basic tips:
- Review the school lunch menu the weekend before to pick some better items
- You don’t have to take everything offered
- Watch the portion size! Your palm should be the meat portion; your fist should be the starch.
- Half the plate should be fruits and vegetables. Fried versions and French fries shouldn’t count.
Whether from home or the lunch line, the SMArt kids team recommends water or low fat white milk at lunch. Saying “no thank you” to flavored milk, juice, soda and sports drinks is the healthiest option.
Eating a wholesome lunch will keep SMArt Kids and school children in general energized at school and working toward the overall goal of general good health and nutrition.
Until next month…keep working on our SMArt Kids goals.
- Five servings of fruits and vegetables per day (pack an apple and some carrots in your lunch)
- Less than two hours of screen time (get the kids in the neighborhood to play tag)
- One hour of active play per day (No excuses, spring is here!)
- Less than 4 ounces of sugared beverages per day (skip the sports drinks – most kids only need water for their athletic practices and games)
- Fast food less than once per week (Ask mom or dad to grill tonight!)
- Eat a healthy breakfast (try cereal with berries on top)
Keep up the “SMArt” work, SMArt Kids! Your ongoing dedication and hard work is paying off.
Looking forward to April!
Brittanny Boulanger, MD