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The Low-Down on School Lunches

What you pack inside your child’s lunchbox has a direct effect on learning capabilities, experts say.

One of our chief responsibilities as parents is to teach our children healthy habits. So it’s no surprise that one of the most important things we can do to ensure a good school day is to pack a lunchbox full of nutritious, power foods that will keep our kids full and focused.

Experts say the items you pack inside that lunch box affect the mood and behaviors of the children, so monitoring carbohydrates and sugars is a big job. The ability to function, focus and learn well in school is greatly affected by a child’s diet, making it more important than ever to pay attention to what you are packing.

“Too much sugar and carbohydrates often have an adverse affect on kids' behavior, making them hyperactive, which makes them anxious, jittery and restless,” according to Dr. Lorraine Hutchinson, a Cupertino therapist specializing in weight control.

Hutchinson says there have been countless studies that indicate that children act up and have disciplinary problems in school directly after lunch, because of the poor food choices that were made at lunchtime.

She says that making healthy foods readily available to kids and having healthy options packed in their lunchboxes each day will contribute to a solid lifelong relationship with good eating habits. And she warns parents that all eyes are on them when it comes to their own eating habits, so modeling good behavior is paramount.

“As parents and adults, we should show by example,” Hutchinson said.

The Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District has a contract with the San Francisco-based Sodexo, Inc. food management services at its two campuses and its menu offers lots of easy to grab fruits and vegetables and a self-service salad as well as more healthy beverages without sodas, according to Tom Woodruff, the district's assistant superintendent for business.

The national nonprofit organization Great Schools offers the following tips to help your children eat a healthy lunch. 

  • Bring your child with you when you go grocery shopping so he can pick out foods he likes to eat. Read food labels together so he can see what makes one food better for him than another.
  • Encourage your child to pack her own lunch. Help her pick healthy choices that are fun to eat, such as string cheese, fruit, carrot sticks and pudding cups. If she packs it, she will be more likely to eat it.
  • Keep a variety of foods on hand so you're not packing the same lunch every day.
  • Thermoses help to add variety with hot and cold foods such as chili, soups or smoothies. A cold pack can help keep yogurt appetizing - and safe from bacteria.
  • Encourage your child to choose 1 percent or 2 percent milk, even if it's chocolate. Milk is always a better choice than juice because most fruit drinks contain very little actual fruit.
  • Vary bread offerings. Include sliced whole wheat, raisin, pita, dinner rolls, tortillas or bagels.
  • Offer plenty of healthy snack food options such as fruit, cheese and crackers, hard boiled eggs or peanut butter and crackers.
  • Make mini pizzas: Use toasted English muffins or round crackers, spread with tomato sauce, shredded cheese and pepperoni slices.
  • Try a sesame noodle dish or pasta with a favorite tomato or Alfredo sauce.
  • Pita pocket sandwiches are easy to make and offer an alternative to the usual sliced bread versions. Try stuffing pockets with hummus and sliced vegetables or cream cheese, cucumbers and shredded carrot.
  • Cut sandwiches into fun shapes. Use a knife to cut sandwiches into triangles or diamond shapes. Or for a variety of shapes, use cookie cutters.
  • Provide different shaped pastas. Although macaroni is a perennial favorite, other shapes including snowmen, bunnies and letters are also available. Offer with mild sauces or as a salad with olive oil, cubed meat and Parmesan cheese.
  • It doesn't have to be a sandwich. Kids love dips. Try hummus or a cream cheese dip and veggies, or bean dip and toasted pita chips or bagel chips for a protein-filled addition.
  • Make a roll-up. Try spreading cream cheese and dates and/or raisins on lavash bread and roll it up. Shredded carrots and cucumbers or additional veggies can also be used instead of raisins.
  • Make fruit kabobs. Be sure to use fruits that aren't too messy and cut off sharp tips of wooden skewers before packing into lunches. Chunks of watermelon, pineapple and grapes are good choices.
frankieboothe August 30, 2011 at 11:22 AM
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Kelly Lester (EasyLunchboxes) August 30, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Thanks for including the pic of my EasyLunchbox System in this terrific article Aimee! Lots of great suggestions here :) - Kelly Lester, mom and CEO, EasyLunchboxes.com

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