Kids' Lunches Can Be Healthy

Learn More About Healthy Foods From Nutrition Links

September 19, 2016


It’s back-to-school time, and that means back-to-lunch-packing for many. How do you make the right food choices for your children?

Making smart decisions about lunches for the family and yourself shouldn’t be painful, but sometimes, it feels that way. You want to pack something the kids will eat and, frankly, that you like, too.

A healthy diet is important, especially for young people who need good nutrition to grow and stay fueled all day.

Packing your children’s lunches will ensure they are getting the nutrition they need:
• “Make your lunch fun! Packed lunches don’t have to be boring sandwiches every day; instead, find fun ways to pack foods from all food groups in cut-out shapes, kid-friendly finger foods, and roll-ups. Pinterest has many healthy kid-friendly lunches if you need some new ideas!” said Anna Hummel, registered dietitian, Penn Highlands Brookville.
• Include at least one fruit and one vegetable – cut them up into fun shapes and pack with a side of peanut butter or a healthy yogurt based dip. A banana with a message from you written on the peel is sure to draw attention!
• Use whole-grain breads and wraps. (Look at the label to be sure it says whole wheat and has a fiber amount.)
• Use lean meats, like turkey or ham, or make salmon or tuna salad on whole grain bread.
• “Make smart decisions about toppings and spreads, which can add unnecessary and empty calories,” Bernie Clark, registered dietitian, of Penn Highlands Clearfield, said. “Use mustard instead of mayonnaise and choose light salad dressings. Mustard and light-dressings without dairy keep better in lunch boxes, too.”
• Load up sandwiches, salads and wraps with fruits and veggies. Cucumbers and carrots make for a crunchy addition. Spinach, lettuce, pickles and other veggies are good, too. Tomatoes are a great source of vitamins but can make bread soggy. Serve those on the side.
• “Try to avoid commercially processed foods. Kids love ‘Lunchables’, but they are high in fat and sodium and low on nutrition - not to mention expensive! Try making your own with whole grain crackers or pizza crust, cheese, maybe some pizza sauce. Add a fruit, vegetable and bottle of water for a complete meal,” Kelly Schreiber-Straub, clinical nutrition manager and certified diabetes educator at Penn Highlands Elk, said.
• “Calcium is essential for growing bones,” Ann Curtis, registered dietitian at Penn Highlands DuBois, said. “Add low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese cubes to your lunch menu. Make sure your kids get the calcium they need. Milk should be available onsite for all cafeterias. For yogurt and cheese, use an ice pack in your lunch box, unless it is also bought at the cafeteria. “
• Serve nuts, if you’re allowed to send nuts to school, and seeds, which are healthy and flavorful.
• Include water or juice if your child is not buying milk. Juice should be 100 percent fruit juices instead of fruit drinks with sugar. Avoid caffeinated beverages or sodas.
• For a dessert include popcorn, pretzels, graham crackers, gelatin or low-fat puddings. And don’t forget about apples, blueberries, oranges and other produce.

For the students on the go or may not want to take a lunch bag, keep it simple and compact, Marie Michelini, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and renal dietitian at Penn Highlands Elk, said. “Take a fat free strawberry yogurt (dairy group as well as carbohydrates and protein), add a banana (fruit), some seeds or nuts for crunch (fat), and mix it all together. Take some broccoli (vegetable) in a separate bag and your yogurt mixture can serve as a dip first, finish what is left with a spoon.”

Encourage good eating habits by teaching your kids to choose these types of foods when purchasing snacks or lunches for themselves

Making the right food choices can boost energy, aid in weight management,
prevent colds, virus and disease and promote overall healthy body function and keep you looking and feeling great!

Avoid the afternoon crash that comes from making poor lunch choices. Be sure to eat
a balanced, wholesome, energy-packed lunch that will keep you satisfied until dinner.

“Kids tend to learn by example, so make sure you are setting a good one by having a variety of foods from all food groups. Plan to take the same lunch and pack it together the night before,” Jeril Goss, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at PH DuBois, said. “They’ll be more likely to eat the lunch if they get to make some decisions on what goes into it,” Schreiber-Straub added.

For those who may need a little more help, the diabetes educators and nutrition experts at all four Penn Highlands Healthcare hospitals are working together with the Penn State Extension to promote the extension’s Nutrition Links.

It is a set of four free classes for parents or caregivers of a child under age 20 to learn how to plan and cook healthy, tasty and economic meals. Though all parents are welcome, PSU Extension is hoping to attract an audience of those who qualify for free or reduced school lunches, WIC, SNAP benefits, food pantry boxes and PA Farmer’s Market Vouchers.

These classes will be held throughout the area starting in September in various locations and will be taught by two PSU Cooperative Extension nutrition education advisers. HeartCaring information will be provided by The Women’s Health Center of Penn Highlands Healthcare or Cardiac Rehab of PH Elk at one of the four sessions per location.

Participants also will receive a kit complete with recipes. They will also be assessed for eating habits.

To register for the following sets of classes, call Ronda Stiles of the PSU Extension at 765-7878 ext. 4 or via e-mail at rxs76@psu.edu:
• The Central Resource Center, PH DuBois West, from 10 a.m. to noon, Monday, Oct. 3, 10, 17 and 24 with a make-up date of Oct. 31;
• God’s Clear View Ministries, Morrisdale, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 20 and 27, and Oct. 4 and 11 with Oct. 18 as a make-up date.

To register for the following classes, call Laurie Maletto of the PSU Extension at 776-5329 or via e-mail at lum40@psu.edu:
• BC3, Butler Community College, Brockway, from 5-7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 22 and 29, and Oct. 6 and 13;
• Cameron County Recreation Center, Emporium, from 1-3 p.m., Oct. 4, 11, 18 and 25;
• Community Education Center, St. Marys, from 10 a.m. to noon, Oct. 4, 11, 18 and 25;
• Punxsutawney Salvation Army, Punxsutawney, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sept. 16 and 23, and Oct. 7 and 14;

For more information about this program, contact the Registered Dietitians at Penn Highlands Healthcare. They are PH Brookville, 849-1451; PH Clearfield, 765-5341; PH DuBois, 375-3890; or PH Elk, 788-8517 or 788-8833.