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Healthy School Lunches: The Power of Avoiding Preservatives

One of the most important duties for parents is ensuring their children have nutritious meals to fuel their bodies and minds throughout the school day. With busy schedules and packed agendas, it can be challenging for parents to find the time to prepare healthy lunches. The key is to come up with lunches that are both appetizing and nutritious for their young ones. Join us as we explore practical ideas for packing back-to-school lunches that will keep students energized and focused for learning.

Emphasis on Nutrients: Building Blocks of a Balanced Lunch

The foundation of any healthy lunch is incorporating nutrient-rich ingredients that provide essential vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients to support growth and development. So, what does that mean in plain English? Simply put, you should include a balance of whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and colorful fruits and vegetables in every meal. Things like whole grain wraps or sandwiches with lean turkey or grilled chicken. Pair those with crunchy carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and a side of hummus, and you’ve got some nourishing lunch options. While it may be tempting to reach straight for the lunch meats, those options often include harmful additives. Culprits like sodium, nitrates, and other preservatives make for less than healthy lunch fodder. That is why reading the labels on the food you’re considering for your children is vital. Making selections with the least number of additives is the best choice for any parent responsible for their child’s lunch. For other health positive snack ideas, take a look at one of our earlier posts: Healthy Snacking Prevents Getting “Hangry”.

Packing Portable Protein: Powering Through the Afternoon Slump

Protein is essential for sustaining energy levels and promoting feelings of fullness throughout the day. Incorporating portable protein sources into school lunches can help students stay focused and alert during afternoon classes. Consider items like Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, edamame, or homemade trail mix containing nuts and seeds for healthy snack options. If your child’s school doesn’t allow for afternoon snack breaks, try your best to add extra protein into the lunch. If your child only has time to snack on the go in the afternoon, take advantage of the pre-packaged protein options. Small portions of meat and cheese you’d find at your local grocer are great for this. Remember, the fewer additives present in these snacks, the better. Don’t let convenience trick you into feeding your child something that will have a negative impact on their health. Spend a few extra minutes to look ingredients over thoroughly. In the long run it is worthwhile to ensure the health of your children.

Beware of Processed Snacks

While pre-packaged snacks are convenient, they often contain high levels of added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial ingredients that can negatively impact health. These ingredients have the opposite effect of providing your children with the energy they need to get through the day. You should avoid relying on processed snacks and consider preparing homemade treats using wholesome ingredients. Try options like homemade granola bars, energy bites, fruit leather, and popcorn seasoned with herbs and spices. Not everyone has the time to prepare these items, if that’s you, avoid the following when purchasing snacks:

What to Watch Out For:

  • Artificial Colors: Synthetic food dyes, such as Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 1, have been linked to hyperactivity and behavioral issues in children.
  • Artificial Flavors: Synthetic flavoring agents can often contain hidden allergens or chemicals that can trigger adverse reactions in sensitive individuals. Instead, opt for foods with natural ingredients.
  • Preservatives: Specifically, additives like BHA, BHT, and TBHQ are commonly used to extend the shelf life of processed foods. These specific preservatives have been linked to hormone disruption and cancer.
  • High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): A highly processed sweetener derived from corn starch, it is most commonly found in sugary snacks, beverages, and processed foods. Excessive consumption can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Instead, opt for natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate): MSG is a flavor enhancer commonly used in processed foods and snacks. Some individuals may experience adverse reactions to MSG, such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Choose products labeled “MSG-free” or “no added MSG” to avoid this additive.
  • Trans fats: Trans fats are artificial fats created through hydrogenation, a process that solidifies liquid oils to improve shelf life and texture. Consumption of trans fats has been linked to heart disease, inflammation, and other health problems. Check ingredient labels for partially hydrogenated oils and avoid products containing trans fats.

Increasing the Allure of Healthy Eating: Good to the Eyes & for the Body

Fruits and vegetables not only add vibrant color and flavor to meals but also provide a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support overall health. Encourage children to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables by offering a variety of options, such as sliced apples, mixed berry skewers, baby carrots with ranch dip, or cucumber slices with tzatziki sauce. Experimenting with different combinations and flavors can make eating fruits and vegetables more enjoyable for children. Don’t be afraid to try something out of the ordinary, pairing some fruit with something like peanut butter, rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, can be a great way to make the standard elements of a nutritious lunch more appetizing.

Don’t Forget: Hydration is Key!

Proper hydration is essential for cognitive function, concentration, and overall well-being. Encourage children to stay hydrated throughout the day by packing a reusable water bottle filled with water or infused beverages, such as fruit-infused water or herbal tea. Limiting sugary drinks and soda can help reduce calorie intake and support better hydration habits.

What Changes will you make for your Child’s Lunch?

Packing healthy back-to-school lunches is essential for ensuring children have the energy and nutrients they need to thrive academically and physically. Parents can instantly improve their child’s lunch by incorporating nutrient-rich ingredients and packing portable protein sources. Don’t forget to make it fun with colorful fruits and veggies, opting for homemade treats, and encouraging proper hydration with water/infused beverages. Let’s prioritize nutritious eating habits and empower students to make healthy food choices that will fuel their minds and bodies for success. Check out MyPlate for a great resource on how to build a healthier lunch for your loved ones.

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