Students have returned to school and the end of summer is near, which makes now a great time to encourage kids to eat healthy and to be active. More than a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012, according to the CDC.
Let’s think about ways to help children get an hour of physical activity each day. Even kids who aren’t athletic can be active. The activity doesn’t have to be sports-specific, but it does need to be age-appropriate.
Helping children to understand how moving more and eating nutritious foods can help them stay healthy allows them to be a part of the solution. Such lessons help lower the risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and early heart disease, according to the CDC. Beyond physical health, healthy eating and physical activity are also linked to academic success.
One way to help your child stay fueled for school is to pack a nutritious lunch so you know which foods they are eating. Here are some budget-friendly, creative ideas to keep kids happy and healthy at lunchtime:
Make a Smarter Sandwich
While some kids prefer the same thing every day, others may be OK with a slight switch to their sandwich.
Use different breads like 100% whole-wheat tortilla wraps (choose wraps low in saturated fat and made with no hydrogenated oils) or 100% whole-wheat pita pockets. In addition to lettuce and tomato, try shredded carrot or zucchini and sliced apple or pear with a turkey sandwich. Try avocado or hummus as a swap for cheese or mayo. Try a leftover grilled chicken in your sandwich as a switch for lunch meat.
Love those Leftovers
Think about using the leftovers from a family favorite dinner for a next day lunch. Use a thermos to keep foods hot or cold until the lunch bell rings. Some ideas:
Soup – tomato, vegetable or bean chili (vegetarian or made with lean or extra lean ground chicken). Spaghetti (whole wheat with tomato, pesto or marinara sauce). Bean casserole or beans & rice. These foods sometimes have a lot of sodium, so make them homemade with little or no salt, or compare nutrition facts of similar products and choose the ones with less sodium.
Let Them Dunk
Sometimes it’s OK to let your kids play with their food, especially when they are getting extra nutrition. Try packing one of these fun dunks with dippers: Apple and pear slices to dip into low-fat plain yogurt or peanut butter. Carrot, celery and sweet pepper strips to dip into hummus, fresh salsa or homemade bean dip. Whole-grain crackers* or slices of grilled tofu (a soybean product) to dunk into soup. Make sure to select crackers low in sodium and saturated fat and made without hydrogenated oils.
Get Them Involved
When kids help pack their lunch, they’re more likely to eat that lunch! On nights you have a bit more time, like a Sunday night, have them choose which piece of fruit or what type of whole grain bread they want and let them assemble their lunch. Make this a weekly routine – it’s another great way to spend family time together.
Printed courtesy of the American Heart Association.