A healthy packed lunch is more important than you think – The Royal Gazette

A healthy school lunch should provide a balanced mix of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

In today’s fast-paced world, it is becoming more and more difficult for parents to provide healthy and nutritious meals for their children, especially when they are at school.

With junk foods and processed snacks readily available, it’s no surprise that childhood obesity rates have increased dramatically over the past few decades. However, by making a few changes to our children’s diets, we can help promote good health and prevent chronic disease.

A healthy school lunch should provide a balanced mix of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

In a 2018 study published in the School Health Diaryresearchers found that students who ate a healthy lunch at school had better academic performance and better attendance than those who did not.

Additionally, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that children who ate a healthy lunch at school were more likely to meet their daily nutritional needs, including calcium, iron, B vitamins, and vitamins D and C.

What are the caloric needs of school-aged children?

The number of calories a child needs varies by age, gender and activity level.

According to USDA Dietary Guidelines, a 6 to 8 year old child should consume between 1,200 and 1,800 calories per day; a child 9 to 13 years old, 1,600 to 2,200 calories; while a 14 to 18 year old should consume between 2,000 and 3,200 calories per day.

In this case, school meals should provide between 500 and 600 calories for primary school students and between 600 and 800 calories for middle and high school students.

However, not all calories are created equal and it is essential to focus on the quality of the food consumed rather than the quantity.

Another important aspect of a healthy breakfast is the absence of added sugars and excess sodium. Processed snacks such as potato chips and cookies are often high in these unhealthy ingredients. Therefore, replacing them with fresh fruit, whole grain crackers and yogurt may be a healthier alternative.

Water is also the best choice for hydration, as sugary drinks such as sodas and fruit juices can be high in calories and lead to weight gain.

What are some ideas for healthy school lunches?

· Veggie burger with whole wheat bun, lettuce, tomato and avocado

· Whole wheat wrap with turkey, low fat cheese, lettuce and tomato

· Brown rice with chicken, mixed vegetables and low sodium soy sauce

· Fruit and Greek yogurt with mixed berries and granola

· Vegetable soup with whole grain crackers or bread.

How can we achieve this?

Parents can play a crucial role in promoting healthy eating habits at home. By involving children in meal planning and preparation, they can develop a better understanding of the nutritional value of different foods.

They can also encourage their children to make healthier choices by offering fruits and vegetables as snacks.

Schools can play a vital role in promoting healthy eating habits in children by providing nutritious and delicious meal choices. Some schools have farm-to-school programs that provide students with fresh, local produce. These programs also support local agriculture. Other schools have set up cooking classes and nutrition education programs to teach students about healthy diets and meal preparation.

What are the challenges?

Providing healthy school meals can be a challenge. One of the main barriers is cost. Healthy foods tend to be more expensive than processed and packaged foods, which can make it difficult for some families to provide nutritious options on a limited income. This problem is quite complex and requires a solution at several levels – starting with the family budget, the school meal plan, to national government policies and tax allocations.

However, there are some strategies families could use to ensure their children get the nutrition they need without breaking the bank. Here are some ideas:

1. Plan meals ahead: Planning meals ahead can help families avoid last-minute trips to the grocery store, where they’re more likely to buy expensive ready-made meals.

2. Bulk Shopping: Buying food in bulk can be a great way to save money on groceries. Non-perishable items such as beans, rice, oats, and pasta are often cheaper when purchased in bulk. Families can also save money by buying meat in bulk and freezing it in portions.

3. Buy seasonal produce: Buying seasonal fruits and vegetables is often cheaper and tastier than out-of-season produce. Plus, frozen fruits and vegetables can be cheaper than fresh and a great alternative.

4. Use coupons and store discounts.

5. Choose Cheaper Protein Sources: Protein is an essential nutrient for growing children, but it can be expensive. Families can save money by choosing less expensive sources of protein, such as eggs, beans, lentils and canned fish.

6. Choose whole grains: Brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and quinoa are great sources of fiber and other nutrients. They are often less expensive than processed grains, such as white bread and pasta.

7. Home cooking: Pre-packaged and processed foods are often more expensive than preparing meals from scratch. By cooking and eating meals at home, families can control ingredients and portion sizes, and save money in the process. Plus, as the popular saying goes: A family that eats together stays together!

Nisrine Atieh is a Boston-based pediatrician and American Board Certified Obesity Medicine Specialist. The information contained herein is not intended to constitute medical advice or to substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor