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Healthy Lunches for Kids

Child Nutrition Basics

By

Updated October 16, 2008

Breakfast often gets top billing as the "most important meal of the day."

When you get down to it, though, every meal is important. Consider that an extra 100 calories at lunch, such as french fries or chips, will add up to an extra 3,000 calories a month, helping your child gain almost a pound of fat.

Remember that one pound of fat is equal to about 3,500 calories.

Healthy Lunch Tips

As with other meals, encouraging your kids to eat a healthy lunch can help to:

  • Avoid high-calorie foods
  • Avoid high-fat foods, including foods that are high in saturated fats or that have any trans fats
  • Choose low-fat foods
  • Avoid oversized portions, with a goal of getting about 1/3 of your child's total daily calories at lunch
  • Encourage kids to drink low-fat white milk, instead of chocolate milk, fruit juice, fruit drinks or soda at lunch
  • Avoid prepackaged lunches that tend to have a lot of calories and salt
  • Review what your child is eating at school from the school cafeteria menu to help them make healthy choices or send them to school with your own healthy lunch
  • Offer a large variety of fruits, vegetables and other high-fiber foods
  • Choose more whole grain foods, including whole grain bread, rolls and buns, etc.

Most importantly, don't always turn to "kid-friendly foods," such as hot dogs, pizza, french fries and chicken nuggets, for lunch. Your kids would be much better off learning to replace those types of high-calorie, high-fat foods with other healthy foods that are high in fiber, low in fat and have calcium, iron and other vitamins and minerals, including these healthful foods that most kids love.

Lunch Ideas

Even with all of the initiatives lately to get healthier lunches in to schools, the menu in many school cafeterias looks more like a fast food restaurant than anyone's idea of a healthful meal. Consider some of the offerings at our local school in a recent week:

  • Chicken Nuggets
  • Popcorn Shrimp
  • Cheeseburger
  • French Fries
  • Hamburger Salad
  • Pepperoni Pizza
  • Beef Fingers

They also offer three types of flavored milk and four flavors of fruit juice. Even what seems like healthy options, such as the stuffed potato and the chef salad with diced egg and ranch dressing, could be healthier without the added fat and saturated fat they have.

Review your child's cafeteria menu to help them make healthy choices for lunch, if they are available. Healthy ideas for a packed school lunch or a lunch your kids can eat at home include:

  • a sandwich made with whole grain bread, lean lunch meat (turkey), mustard (or low-fat mayonnaise, if necessary) and lettuce and tomatoes
  • a tuna fish sandwich made with whole grain bread, canned light tuna in water and low-fat mayonnaise
  • vegetable soup
  • pasta with tomato sauce
  • a wrap made with pita bread or lettuce
  • quesadillas made with whole wheat tortillas, vegetables and low-fat cheese

Of course, you can also send your child a good lunch made with leftovers from last nights' healthy dinner, such as using chicken breasts for a sandwich or chicken salad.

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