Back to school food tips

Lunches pack a punch

The lazy days of summer are coming to an end and back-to-school checklists are on the minds of many.

A new school year is an exciting time but often the hectic schedules of drop-off, after-school activities, pick-up, and homework can consume the entire family making healthy food choices a real challenge.

The most recent estimates from the Cayman Islands Public Health Department reveal approximately one third of school aged children 10-14 years of age are overweight or obese increasing their risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol as they age.

Type 2 diabetes, once rare in childhood, is now becoming increasingly prevalent in children especially children who are overweight.

What can you do about it? One major way to reduce your child’s risk is to encourage and maintain a healthy weight by making smart food choices. Create healthy lunches and snacks for school that they will look forward to.

Secrets for power packed lunches/snacks

Make it simple. A healthy lunch for kids should include fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and calcium-rich foods (low-fat yoghurt, milk or cheese). Use this guide for each meal your family eats. Cut back or avoid pre-packaged foods which are often high in sugar, saturated fat and salt.

Plan the week. If your child eats school lunch, review the menu ahead of time and help him/her to make healthy choices in advance. If you send lunch from home, make a plan and have ingredients ready to go.

Keep it interesting. Use cookie cutters to create shaped sandwiches for fun. Surprise them with different shapes over the week. Fill whole grain bread with low fat chicken, egg, or tuna salad with veggies. Lean turkey slices and low-fat cheese also make a yummy sandwich. Whole wheat pita pockets or crackers can be substituted for bread.

Eat a rainbow. Kids love to dip. Cut colourful fruits and veggies in different sizes and add dips such as low-fat ranch dressing, salsa, yoghurt, or hummus. Natural nut butter (almond or peanut) is high in protein and great with fruit and veggie slices but should not be an option for children with nut allergies. Plan a family outing to the local farmers market for fresh seasonal fruits and veggies.

Pick a theme like Mexican Monday with whole wheat tortilla, lettuce, low-fat sour cream, salsa, brown rice and beans or Leftover Wednesday. Leftovers for lunch are a home cooked meal on the go.

Snack attack – Fruit slices, pretzels, whole grain crackers, low-fat air popped popcorn, low-fat yoghurt/cottage cheese/cheese sticks are great for quick energy.

Thirst quenchers – Replace punch and sodas with 100 per cent juice, water, or low-fat milk. Each 12-ounce can of soda contains 10-12 teaspoons of sugar (1/4 cup). Drinking just one can of soda a day increases your child’s risk of obesity by 60 per cent.

Set an example and make healthy eating a family affair. As parents/caregivers, you can have a big influence on what your children think and do. Take action for heart healthy habits now and for the future.

For questions about nutrition for kids or specific concerns about your child’s diet or weight, talk to your child’s doctor or a registered dietician.

Jodie Kelley, RN, is Education and Programme Coordinator at the Heart Health Centre.

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