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Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 12:36 am

Solve the school lunch puzzle

Start the school year right with healthier lunches

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If you’re a parent, August’s school bell rings bittersweet. You have to love the schedule, but at the same time, stress kicks in – from getting all the supplies to packing those lunches.

So how can you start the school right from with good nutrition for your child?

Think about lunches like a well-planned puzzle. Then pack that healthy lunch tucked inside individual little compartments. And don’t forget a little note, whether it’s written on a banana peel with a Sharpie or simple scribbled on a Post-it note.

First, the puzzle. Every healthy lunch needs a protein, some fruit, a vegetable, dairy and a small treat – all in the right-sized portions for kids. The more variety in a lunch, the better. Skip the sugary food and drinks and make healthier choices fun.

Remember a protein paired with whole grains doesn’t always have to be a sandwich.

For protein (beyond the typical pbj sandwich) try a hard-boiled egg, nuts, lean meats, tuna or salmon pouch or cup, chili with meat or beans, powdered peanut butter or beans on a salad. Other protein options are hummus dip, sliced Canadian bacon, yogurt, cottage cheese and string cheese.

Add whole grain options such as whole grain bread, a whole grain pita pocket, flatbread or whole grain tortilla or whole grain mini bagels or bagel “thins.” Other whole grain options include crackers such as whole grain Goldfish, whole grain chips such as Sun Chips or Tostitos chips and whole grain cereals such as Frosted Mini-Wheats or Quaker Oatmeal Squares.

To complete the rest of the lunch puzzle, add 1-2 servings of fruits and vegetables, such as assorted cubed fruit, cherry tomatoes, veggie sticks or cucumber slices with ranch dip, peeled orange, baby carrots, apple slices, an applesauce cup, fresh or frozen berries, seedless grapes, salsa, pineapple chunks, melon cubes, dried fruit in a trail mix, vegetable soup in a Thermos or a mixed green salad.

Calcium and Vitamin D are two critical nutrients for growing children – both are found in dairy. Choices to pack include milk, yogurt, cheese or enriched soy or almond milk.

When it comes to a treat (an optional part of the lunch puzzle), consider pudding, a granola bar, oatmeal cookie, fruit snacks, animal crackers, a Rice Krispie bar, vanilla wafers, fruit leather, graham crackers or a mini-size candy bar.

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Here are 10 tips to making a great lunch:

  1. Kids like ready-to-eat foods – a peeled and segmented orange is more likely to get eaten than a whole orange.

  2. Kids like small things – use cookie cutters to cut up sandwiches or bake muffins in a mini-muffin pan.
  3. Kids like dip – use small containers to create fun combinations like pretzels or crackers and peanut butter, salsa with chips or vegetables with dressing.

  4. Kids like crunchy textures – provide crunch with raw vegetables or low-fat pretzels or crackers.

  5. Combine colors, textures and different food groups to provide a variety of flavors and nutrients.

  6. Select a rainbow of colors of fruits and vegetables to provide assorted vitamins minerals, antioxidants and fiber.

  7. Fruits are “nature’s candy” and make a great choice for something sweet. Freeze grapes to bring out their sweetness.

  8. Get children involved in choosing, preparing and packing lunch foods. This makes them feel like part of the team and motivates them to eat what they pack and not throw food away.

  9. Teach your children how to balance less nutritious foods with more nutrient-rich choices by packing only a small portion of the “treat,” packing only one treat per day and balancing treats with other healthy foods.

  10. Remember food safety. Use a properly insulated bag and add an ice pack or frozen bottled water or 100 percent juice if the lunch contains any perishable items.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee. She’s packed lunches for her daughter, Kate, and son, Jayden.

Also from Charlyn Fargo

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