Kids all over are gearing up for the start of school. Before the daily homework assignments kick in, parents have their own homework to do: learn the ABCs of good school lunches.
A: Always have a balance.
Carilion Clinic's Dining and Nutrition team works with children and families with a range of health considerations and relationships to food. They recommend avoiding absolutes when it comes to nutrition, and instead aim for "the 90-10 rule." Try and eat healthy 90 percent of the time and indulge 10 percent of the time. Try to include a lean protein, whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables throughout the day, for meals and snacks.
B: Be a good role model.
Making sure your kids eat healthy starts with you: the foods you purchase and they way you prepare them. When you make good choices, your kids will typically follow by example. Encourage them to get involved in planning and meal preparation, making their own lunches. A health-focused environment at home will help them make better decisions when they're not at home.
C: Color is important.
It’s easy to fall into a routine when it comes to packing school lunches, but take a step back and look at the colors. Well-balanced meals (like this rainbow flatbread pizza) are colorful, representing many of the food groups.
Don't worry if your child always likes eating the same thing for lunch. Be sure your family's other meals – breakfast, dinner and weekends – have a good balance of the food groups. But challenge your kids to try new things and "eat the rainbow." Place new things in your child’s lunch each week. They may try a new food, share it with a friend or come back to it later.
What’s the one thing to avoid so you don’t get an “F” on your child’s lunch?
Steer clear of highly processed, pre-packaged lunches. They tend to be low in fiber and high in fat, salt and sugar. They may seem easy in a time crunch, but planning ahead can make all the difference in your child's nutrition.
It’s important to note if your child has special needs or allergies, you should consult a specialist on a proper diet. Laura Dziadzio, M.D., Carilion Children’s pediatric pulmonology and allergy expert, spoke about childhood food allergies in this Living article.
Always talk with your pediatrician first to discuss the proper referral. As your kids get ready to head back to school, be sure you can make the grade when it comes to their lunches.