School Lunches Can Pack A Healthy Punch
Houston (July 31, 2001) – School is starting soon, and parents everywhere are gearing up for the daily routine. Planning and packing school lunches are often a big part of this routine. So, how can parents make the most of this daily activity to help keep their children healthy?
First and most importantly, encourage kids to actually eat their lunch. “Most children want to eat quickly so they can spend more time socializing or playing with friends,” according to Clarie Danos, a registered and licensed dietitian in the Clinical Education Department at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic’s Main Campus. “Keep it simple. Send easy-to-open packages, cut up fruit and vegetables, and make finger sandwiches.”
Of course, some children can be “picky eaters.” But Federal surveys show that most kids get about one-third of their daily caloric intake at lunch. “Letting children choose their food and participate in the preparation of their lunch may improve their intake, especially for ‘picky’ eaters. Try fun things like creating shapes out of sandwiches with cookie cutters, or making kabobs out of fresh fruit,” suggests Danos. “Remember, a nutritious lunch can provide important nutrients that will improve concentration and energy for the rest of the school day.”
Parents can also use school lunches to enhance their child’s mental and emotional health as well. “Enclose a special card or note to remind your child how much you love them. It may boost their self-esteem or give them that extra confidence they need to get through a test or difficult subject,” suggests Danos.
Another helpful idea is to use school lunch planning to reinforce and model healthy habits. “Healthy eating habits should be taught in conjunction with healthy exercise habits. A lot of American kids spend a large amount of time in sedentary activities, such as watching TV and surfing the Internet. Weight problems may contribute to health problems later in life, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer,” says Danos.
And, research shows that childhood obesity is a growing problem. According to R.P.Troiano and K.M. Flegal in a 1998 article in Pediatrics, the prevalence of overweight children and adolescents is increasing in the United States. Approximately 11 percent of children and adolescents were overweight in 1988 to 1994 -- up from about 5 percent in the 1960s and 1970s. However, parents can help their children avoid this problem. “The school years are the best time to teach children about healthy eating habits and physical activity,” encourages Danos.
To assist parents in teaching their children these healthy habits, Kelsey-Seybold offers a series of informational mailings called “Weigh To Go.” According to Danos, “It’s a challenge to get young people in for appointments since they are busy with school and extra activities. So, we mail out a packet every other week (for a total of 6 packets) with information about healthy snacks, breakfast, lunch, dinner, exercise and dining out. We even include a certificate of completion for the children when they finish the program.”
For questions and concerns about school lunches, contact your primary care physician or call Kelsey-Seybold Clinic at (713) 442-0427 for more information on the “Weigh To Go” program.