As the school year begins, Stephanie Harshman, PhD, RD, LD, research fellow in the Neuroendocrine Division and clinical dietitian at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, offers simple back-to-school snack hacks for packing a school lunch.
A school lunch should provide a nutritional balance that covers the major food groups; grains, protein, fruits and vegetables. Most importantly, parents should avoid prepackaged foods like yogurt tubes and some granola bars that may be easy to pack but are low in fiber and high in added sugars. Though many deli meats tend to be high in saturated fat and salt, there are some more lean and low sodium options that can be used.
Parents should be creative in their school lunch preparation to add excitement to the lunch box – for example, use cookie cutters to slice fruits, vegetables and sandwiches into fun shapes. Also, creating a lunch packing station where kids can help provides a learning opportunity and allows them to feel good about their healthy choices.
Can a parent pack the same lunch for children of different ages?
The general nutrition requirements are the same for children older than 1 year and for adults. Meals, including lunches, should focus on a variety of fruits and vegetables. At least one half of all grains should be whole grain and solid fats, added sugars and salt should be minimized.
What is the best drink option?
Most kids don’t need anything other than water. The exciting advertisements and marketing around sports drinks, natural fruit juices, and energy drinks make them a desired, yet unhealthy choice for kids as they are often packed with added sugars. Parents can instead add sliced citrus fruit, frozen berries – they act as flavorful ice cubes – or cucumber to water to add flavor and limit sugar. Let your child choose their fruit or vegetable addition to get them excited about their healthy drink.
Many adolescents are heading to the field after class. What snacks should they fuel up on beforehand?
Fiber, proteins and carbohydrates are key. They will keep kids satisfied and provide that extra energy boost. Cheese sticks, apple slices and dried cranberries are quick, healthy snacks that can sustain young athletes until dinner. Processed foods should be avoided.
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This story was first published in MGH Hotline, a publication for employees and staff of Mass General.