How to make plan fast, healthy school lunches

Packed lunches can be fun and healthy for kids.

Profile of boy drinking milk from straw

With back-to-school just a few weeks away, parents may be wondering how to fill their children’s new lunch boxes and still get out the door on time.

It may take a little planning, but it is possible to make sure kids eat healthy when they head off to school.

“By sending your child off to school with a lunchbox full of nutritious food, you’re choosing to set a healthy example for your child,” said Paige Suffredini, MD, a pediatrician at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic.

Fight childhood obesity

Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have tripled over the past 30 years, and now, almost 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese, according to the federal Let’s Move campaign. Americans are eating more fats, oils, sugar and sweeteners than ever before, but by making a few lifestyle changes and modeling healthy behavior, children can learn to lead healthier lives.

“It’s an example that they will learn to follow,” Dr. Suffredini said. “Those added pounds aren’t just a cosmetic concern. They can have serious future health consequences. So to protect your children’s health, now and in the future, healthy lifestyle choices and changes need to be made by both parent and child.”

Tips for packing lunches

Here are some tips for packing a healthy lunchbox:

  • Choose lean proteins – turkey, chicken and low-fat cheeses;
  • Make sure bread is “100% whole wheat;”
  • Include at least one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables in every lunch;
  • Pack fresh fruits and vegetables, rather than processed;
  • Instead of juice, pack water and plain 1 percent or fat-free milk;
  • Have your child help make lunch – they’ll be more likely to eat it!
  • Make lunches the night before to avoid a rushed morning;
  • Include a special note or toy instead of a sweet dessert.

Lunch Ideas

Need some ideas for lunch items to make? Here are some ideas:

  • Turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato slices on whole grain bread
  • Cheese and vegetables rolled up in whole wheat tortillas
  • Cut vegetables and a “dipper:” hummus, guacamole or bean dip
  • Plain or vanilla yogurt with fresh berries and granola
  • Baked chips, pretzels or low-fat crackers
  • 1 percent or fat-free milk or water

What to avoid

  • High-fat lunch meats — bologna, salami and pastrami
  • Heavily processed items, including potato, corn or other chips made with oil or Olean.
  • Desserts, such as cookies and snack cakes
  • Flavored milks

Most of all, it’s important to model good behavior. Keep healthy foods in the kitchen and pantry, rather than junk food – it only invites a battle. Also, explain choices. If you’re making changes to your eating, explain the health reasons, rather than “I’m on a diet.” And schedule a time to have lunch with your child at school so you can share a healthy lunch together!

Paige Suffredini, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at ADC Cedar Bend, 2400 Cedar Bend Drive. For more information about ADC Pediatrics, our doctors or offices visit www.ADClinic.com/pediatrics or call 512-901-4016 in north Austin or 512-460-3404 in South Austin.