Thursday, December 15, 2011

School Lunches: Helping Your Child Make Healthy Choices

How can I help my child make healthy food choices at school?
The best thing you can do is to prepare your child to make healthy choices. You can do that by helping your child establish healthy habits before school even begins. What you do at home can trickle over into the rest of your child’s day – and the rest of his or her life.
Are school lunches a healthy option for my child?
School lunches are designed to provide healthy food options for children. To see the nutrition information for lunches and other meals offered by your child’s school, check out the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service School Meals website. Your school district may also provide menus and nutrition information on its website.
Many school districts across the country have revamped their school lunch programs to provide healthier choices. By offering more variety, ethnic food options, vegetarian entrees, and salad, fruit and vegetable bars, students are able to make healthier and more appealing choices. But many students are still unclear about what foods are healthy. They often make their selections based on what they are most familiar with or what their friends are choosing.
Should I make my child’s lunch for him or her to take to school?
Making your child’s lunch is definitely an option, especially if your child is a picky eater or has special dietary needs.
If you’re concerned about your child’s food choices at school, try reviewing the school lunch menu with your child each week. Discuss which days he or she would like to eat at school and which foods and beverages he or she will choose. Work with your child to determine which days he or she will have a “home” lunch. That way, you can help your child select healthy options at school but also provide healthy meals from home.
When you do pack your child’s lunch, prepare it the night before to make sure you don’t run short on time in the morning. If you are in a hurry, you will be more tempted to toss in prepackaged foods and unhealthy snack-like options. Pack items that do not require refrigeration or that can be kept cold with an ice pack or thermos, or check to see if your school offers lunch refrigeration. Some foods, such as beverages and yogurts, can be frozen ahead of time and safely thaw in the lunch box.
Offer these snacks:
·     Fresh fruit
·     Baked chips or pretzels
·     Fresh veggies with salsa or low-calorie salad dressing
·     Unbuttered popcorn and other low-fat snacks
Instead of these:
·     Fried foods
·     Sugary drinks, such as regular sodas and sweetened fruit punches
·     Baked or processed goods
What other options do I have?
Some schools also offer breakfast programs to start children on a healthy track for the day. Sometimes, the meals are served in the cafeteria, while other schools serve breakfast in the classroom. Ask your school for a menu of breakfast offerings.

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