Send kids back to school with healthy meals and snacks

New federal rules on school lunches will help provide children with more nutritious meal options. But, according to the American Heart Association, the best way to ensure healthy and less expensive meals for your kids is to send them with meals from home. So while you’re getting the kids’ backpacks ready with notebooks, pencils and paper, it’s a great time to plan for healthy back-to-school lunches.

The American Heart Association recommends packing a healthy lunch at home to ensure that kids get the nutrition they need without all the fat, calories and salt found in convenience foods and many school lunch meals. Too much salt, calories and fat can contribute to long-term health issues like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Today, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese; nearly triple the rate in 1963. Among children today, obesity is causing health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol levels.

Ten Healthy lunchbox tips:

  • Pack healthy drinks such as water, low-fat milk or 100% juice with no added sugar.
  • Beverages boxes frozen the night before can keep a lunchbox cool until lunchtime.
  • Cut out the calorie-rich and nutrient-empty soda and energy drinks.
  • Use whole wheat bread, pita, wraps or flatbreads for sandwiches.
  • Pick lean luncheon meats like turkey, ham or leftover chicken breast.
  • Use reduced fat mayo or salad dressing or mustard to dress a sandwich
  • Add mixed greens or baby spinach leaves for extra nutrients
  • Try protein/iron-rich hummus with fresh veggies and whole wheat pita triangles for dipping.
  • Low-fat or fat-free calcium-rich cottage cheese with carrots, cherry tomatoes, berries, or melon.
  • Top green salads with lean protein like hard-boiled eggs, beans or chicken.

Didn’t pack a lunch? There are many options to choose from in the lunch line at school, some of them are healthier than others. Encourage kids to choose fruits and vegetables instead of French fries or chips and ask for grilled meat instead of fried.

The above information has been provided by the American Heart Association. For more information and recipes, visit the American Heart Association at www.heart.org/healthierkids.