With back to school season in full swing, packing school lunches is on the brains of many parents. With all of the debate and discussions surrounding school lunches, more and more parents are taking on the responsibility of packing their child’s lunch rather than purchasing through the school lunch program. Although many school lunch programs have made great strides recently to provide healthier options to students, the reality is that many still fall short due to factors like a lack of funding or inappropriate standards set for the lunch program. By packing a student’s lunch, parents can rest assured about what their child is eating each day while they are at school. But, is this really beneficial? Many parents don’t always know how to choose the right foods that will fuel their child through the entire school day. Look at what many adults choose to eat on a daily basis; it’s not hard to see where parents may not always be equipped to make the best choices for school lunches. That’s where it’s our role as dietitians to educate parents on making healthy food choices; both for the parents and for their children.
As many of us already know, packing school lunches on a daily basis is a huge commitment. If you take the time to make sure that your children are getting the right amount of foods from each food group, changing up meal options enough to keep them excited and keeping the pantry stocked with all the right foods to make it happen, you quickly find that it’s much easier to just have your child purchase a school lunch. But, we’ve got a couple of tips to ease the burden and make this important task a seamless part of your everyday schedule. As a dietitian, these are great tips to share with clients.
- Create a Plan: If you’re the type of person who thrives on a schedule, make a meal plan a week or two in advance. If you have a list of common meals that your family enjoys, you can just pull from that list to fill your meal plan. Be sure that you have slots for each food group under every meal. Fill these slots with MyPlate in mind to create a balanced plate for every meal. Then, use your meal plan to create a grocery list. You’ll be amazed at how simple it is to look at your meal plan and make what it says. There’s no guessing or thinking involved. You just read it and do it!
- Pack Meals in Advance: Depending on the lunches you’ve chosen, you can prepare the meals ahead of time. Many times you can take some time on Sunday afternoon and get all your lunches for the week packed and ready to go. If you’ve chosen fresher options, it may be a little more difficult. But, always plan to pack lunches in the evening so you can simply ‘grab n go’ in the morning.
- Always Remember MyPlate: Sometimes it’s hard to look at a blank slate and start filling in a meal plan or packing a school lunch. But, if you keep a copy of MyPlate hanging in your kitchen, just begin going around the plate choosing foods that fit in each food group. For example, as I go around the plate, I can easily fill it with 1 slice of whole wheat toast, peanut butter, green beans and grapes. Top it off with a glass of milk or yogurt and voila, we have a full meal that is packed with everything a student needs to stay energized throughout their day at school.
Like I said before, packing school lunches for your family is a commitment. But, once you get in the swing of it, it will become second nature! Be sure to utilize all the different resources available online that make packing school lunches easier. In fact, some of them will even create balanced meal plans for you if you don’t have the time or energy to create your own. Until next time, here’s to healthy lunches and happy families!
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“School’s out for summer. School’s out Forever!” Well, if you’ve got kids home with you, it may sometimes feel like it’s going to last forever, especially if you’re working hard to come up with healthy meals and snacks. But, it doesn’t have to be difficult. There are so many resources available for parents that want to feed their kids healthy, balanced meals. The most common resource available is the USDA MyPlate. The MyPlate icon provides a visual of what every plate should look like for every meal. With basic tips like filling half your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, MyPlate makes nutrition easy both at home and on the go!
Based around the MyPlate concept, NCES has developed a line of Right-Sized portion products, including educational handouts and portion plates. For tots and kids, you can use the NCES handouts, A Healthy S.T.A.R.T. for Tiny Tots and A Healthy S.T.A.R.T. for Cool Kids. These handouts are packed full of super snack ideas, fantastic family meal must-haves and a table of healthy calorie intake ranges for children ages 2-12. They also focus on teaching the NCES S.T.A.R.T. concept for health and nutrition. And, let’s not forget food safety. While the kids are home with you this summer, it’s a great time to get them involved in preparing meals. When kids understand the foods they’re eating, they are more likely to choose healthy foods.
Portion plates are also an easy way to encourage healthy eating at every meal. Divided out to make sure that kids fill their plates with the right amount of foods from each food group, these plates make healthy meals an easy choice! Around the edge of the plate, kids can read about how to fit physical activity in to their day, as well as tips about choosing the right foods to fill each section of their plate.
So, there it is! A few simple tricks to make healthy meal planning an easy chore this summer. So, stop stressing about what to feed your kids and start enjoying the beautiful sunshine that comes with summer!
Are you ready to order your NCES Healthy S.T.A.R.T. handouts? Here are a few snack ideas that we pulled out for you to use until yours arrive! As always, if you have any questions, visit us at www.ncescatalog.com. Write on our wall at www.facebook.com/ncescatalog, or call us at 877.NCES.BOOKS.
- Dry Whole Grain Cereal
- Fun Fruit
- String Cheese
- Baked Tortilla Chips & Salsa
Do you remember that old commercial that used to play on all the major stations, “It’s 10:00 pm, do you know where your kids are?” This topic reminds me of that commercial… with a little twist! It’s lunchtime at school; do you know what your kids are eating? This may sound like a silly question, especially to those of us clued-in to the nutrition world. But, millions of parents send their children to school every day and don’t have a clue what they’re eating. Are they getting a school lunch or joining their friends at the vending machine? And, if their getting a school lunch, are the nutrition standards in your school cafeteria where they need to be for your child to grow up strong and healthy?
No matter what your school is doing to promote nutrition in eduation, the important thing is to educate children on how to make healthy choices as they’re walking through the cafeteria line. Whether you are the parent, the educator or the school food service director, educating kids on how to make healthy choices is how to make sure that they become lifelong healthy eaters. The truth is that no matter how hard schools try to provide healthy options, they still have to be appealing to kids. If the healthy foods provided don’t look as appealing, then kids may choose to not eat at all, which is just as bad as going to the vending machine. It’s important to help kids learn to choose the healthiest foods available to them. For example, a good lunch choice would be baked chicken breast, vegetable, fruit and milk instead of fried chicken strips, mashed potatoes and fruit salad or dessert with juice. And, remember, if you’re student just doesn’t seem to like any of the healthy options provided, you may want to consider packing a lunch to ensure that your child is getting the foods they need to stay full throughout the day.
Just remember this, it’s not only important to monitor what your children are eating today. Also educate them about how to make healthy choices for themselves. Are you looking for great ways to educate students of every age on health and nutrition? NCES offers a full line of educational handouts and portion plates aimed at educating tots, kids and teens! Check them out at the previous links! Plus, stick around next week as we’ll be going over tips for raising a healthy family directly from these handouts. See you then!
Here at NCES, we focus a lot on child and school nutrition! We have had the opportunity to work with schools all across the spectrum in school nutrition. Some don’t have much of a nutrition program at all, while others have great programs that are helping their students understand the importance of nutrition and educating them to make healthy choices in the lunchroom, at home, and everywhere else.
It’s no secret that schools are constantly under fire for not providing the resources that students need in order to make healthy choices and live a healthy lifestyle. However, it’s not every day that schools get the accolades they deserve for the strides that many have made to provide healthy school lunches and fitness opportunities.
So many schools across the country are participating in programs like the National Dairy Council and NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program. When schools partner with Fuel Up to Play 60, students have the opportunity to participate in fun challenges and track their healthy eating and physical activity. Students work with their adult sponsors to complete ‘plays’ in their playbook and earn online rewards. Over 70,000 schools across the country currently participate in the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. If you have any other questions or want to learn more about Fuel Up to Play 60, visit their FAQ section here.
Schools are also taking steps to take unhealthy choices out of their student’s hands; like removing vending machines from their cafeterias. Pre-packaged foods are often very appealing to students. Not only are they super sweet, salty or flavorful, the flashy marketing and branding of these items makes them hard for kids to resist. Removing this temptation and showing students how great the healthy options can taste will help them develop lifelong habits of healthy eating. In February of this year, we were introduced to some new rules from the USDA that would make it harder for kids to find “sugar-filled candy, high-calorie sports drinks and greasy dishes” in their school lunchroom. Instead, healthy school lunches would be promoted. Read more about these new guidelines from CBS News here.
The gist of the story here is that many schools across the country are taking the steps necessary to foster a healthy eating and active environment for their students. Through participating in local and national programs, taking steps in their schools to remove unhealthy options and promote healthy choices, these schools are working together to save a generation. Congratulations to these schools for being pioneers in school nutrition. Keep up the great work!
We want to hear from you! What is your school doing to improve child and school nutrition in your community? What kind of results have you seen? Let’s all work together to encourage healthy lifestyles at home, at school and everywhere else! Share your ideas and stories here on the blog, our Facebook page or Twitter. Plus, you can always find the best in nutrition education at www.NCEScatalog.com.