Packing the right lunch for your child

Make sure you know what's going into your child's lunch.

The decision between packing a lunch for your children or letting them eat whatever their school is serving has became somewhat of a no-brainer for parents. Statistics have shown that a number of shocking results regarding school lunches, including:

  • Students who eat school lunches are more likely to be or become overweight
  • Children who bring their own lunches are nearly 20 percent more likely to eat a serving of fruit or vegetable
  • Those who eat school lunches are more than twice as likely to drink a high-sugared beverage
  • Kids who eat school lunches are at a greater risk of developing higher cholesterol levels

Sure, not having to pack your child a meal everyday can save you time and energy in the morning, but the fact of the matter is making your kid's lunch allows you to monitor how healthy he or she is eating, as well as knowing the nutritional background of the food. But just because your child is brown-bagging it to class, doesn't necessarily mean they are eating healthier. Many of the advertised foods for kids are just as bad, if not worse, than the meals provided through the school. Here are some popular lunch items for kids that are proven to be unhealthy, and some alternative choices to get your child the proper nutrients they need. 

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
The PB&J is a classic kid's lunch entree that has been passed down from generation to generation. It also is, to say the least, not the healthiest option for children. Using only two slices of white bread, and a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter and jelly can account for nearly one-third of a child's recommended daily fat, sodium and carbohydrate intake. And that's just after one sandwich.

To craft a slimmer version, try using whole wheat bread instead of white, which has plenty of more crucial vitamins and minerals essential for children, including vitamin B, potassium and magnesium. Then, instead of your standard canned jelly, try to slip some fruits in there, like some freshly cut strawberries that are full of rich antioxidants. Top it off with just 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, and you have a PB&J without half of the fat and calories.

Juice boxes
You know all those fruit drinks for kids that guarantee 100 percent vitamin C and natural ingredients? Well they are actually loaded with sugars and artificial flavors that can not only give your child cavities, but raise their overall cholesterol as well. Just one 6.75 ounce serving size of apple juice can contain more than 22 grams of sugar.

It's not just juice boxes that are guilty of sugar overload. All fruit drinks should be used sparingly with children, and they never have the same nutritional benefits that real fruit does. Instead, try packing some finger picking fruits, such as clementines, grapes or apple sauce, that will fulfill their vitamin C needs with way less sugar.

Lunch meat
There are so many processed and non-nutritional meats marketed towards children that it is practically impossible to tell what should be served and what should be banned from the refrigerator. Whether it's pre-packaged turkey, hot dogs or frozen fish sticks, these choices are stuffed with sodium nitrate that can raise potential risks for a child's heart in the future.

When shopping for store-bought meats, it's important to scan the labels until you find the words "preservative free." Just because something is marked as "natural" doesn't mean it is. You can always try turning your kid on to tuna sandwiches, which are excellent sources of protein and vitamin B, while also being great for your heart.

Fruit snacks
Whether they come by the foot, change colors or are gushing with flavor, there's no nutritional reason a bag of fruit snacks should be part of your child's lunch. The extreme amount of high fructose corn syrup alone should be enough to shut down any possibilities of fruit snacks showing up in the lunch box.

Go for a pack of raisins, which have a number of positive health benefits, including potassium, calcium and oleanolic acid, which can help prevent cavities and tooth decay, something fruit snacks can't quite claim. And don't forget carrots, which are loaded with vitamin A and ideal for improving vision and promoting healthy gums. 

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