Children's Hospital Offers Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches

Palmetto Health Children's Hospital Offers Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches

Posted on 8/12/2015

Editor’s Note: Brooke Grussing is available for interviews. Those interested can contact Tammie Epps at 803-434-4903 or Tammie.Epps@PalmettoHealth.org.

As children get caught up in the anticipation of a new school year, Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital dietitian Brooke Grussing shares tips for filling those lunch boxes with healthy snacks and meals.

“Whether you purchase a cool new lunch bag or just plan to use last year’s lunchbox or bag, having fun gear can get your child interested in what goes inside,” said Grussing. “Color and variety are the key to making meals look appetizing. A balanced meal should include a serving of whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables and dairy.”

“Sit down with your child and make a plan for lunch-packing,” said Grussing. “This will give you insight into what foods your child likes and will involve your child in planning the week’s lunch menu. By shopping ahead for nutritious foods, you can pack a healthy lunch in minutes.”

Grussing suggests stocking up on lean deli meats, whole grain breads and tortillas, leafy greens and reduced-fat cheeses for sandwiches and wraps. “Keep food safety in mind and include an ice pack when packing items that should be kept cold, such as yogurt, meat, cheese, pudding and hummus.  Peanut butter does not require refrigeration, so it can be a good choice if allergies are not an issue.”

Grussing said parents don’t need to buy convenience items like pre-packaged deli lunch kits that contain high-fat processed meats, processed cheese and refined crackers. “Create your own spin by filling small containers with healthier foods like lean ham or turkey, low-fat cheese and whole grain crackers. Remember to include fruits and vegetables for a balanced meal.”

“Consider packing a few extra servings of healthy favorites that your child can share with friends,” said Grussing. “Cut vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, celery and zucchini into sticks that can be dipped in peanut butter, low-fat dressing or hummus. This is a good strategy if your child is a picky eater. When they see their friends enjoying something, they are more likely to try it.”

If your child loves crunchy snacks, Grussing suggested whole grain crackers, popcorn, granola or goldfish crackers. “Chips can be a treat once in a while, but they shouldn’t be a daily food. Chips that are marketed as healthier can be tricky, so read the label and check the serving size.”

Grussing said that a satisfying snack should include a carbohydrate and a protein. “A snack is something to hold you over until your next meal. It isn’t intended to fill you up like a meal might,” she said.

Good snack choices are:

  • Fruit with cheese or peanut butter
  • Granola and yogurt
  • Vegetables and hummus
  • Crackers and hummus or peanut butter

Beverages are another area where healthy choices can make a significant difference in nutrition and weight control. “Avoid packing sweetened beverages like sodas or fruit drinks. Flavored waters and low-fat milk are good choices. Fruit juice should be used in moderation – no more than four ounces per day. It is better to have an apple than to have apple juice,” said Grussing. “Most sports drinks contain sugar. A sports drink bottle may contain two or more servings, so read the label to avoid empty calories.”

If your child enjoys salads, Grussing recommends leafy greens, such as romaine, rather than iceberg lettuce. Top the salad with a lean protein, such as beans, hard boiled eggs, or grilled meats. “Pay attention to the amounts of cheese and dressing you add because that can add more calories than most people realize,” said Grussing.

Grussing encourages parents to make sure their children have a healthy breakfast each day. “There are things you can do the night before, like setting the table or preparing oatmeal or boiling some eggs to make breakfast easier. Breakfast should include a carbohydrate and a protein.”

Good choices to have on hand are:

  • Whole grain cereals
  • Skim milk
  • Fresh fruit
  • Whole wheat bagels
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit
  • Whole grain toast with peanut butter
  • Lean ham

For extra busy mornings, Grussing recommends parents keep a box of granola bars or protein bars in the car.

“By planning ahead, you can teach your child to associate meals and snacks with healthy choices,” said Grussing.

One of her favorite resources is www.choosemyplate.gov. “You will find all kinds of nutritional tips there and they have great information about portion sizes appropriate for children.”


About Brooke Grussing 
A native of southwestern Minnesota, Grussing found she had a passion for food and nutrition while in high school. That led to continuing her education in the field of Nutrition and Dietetics at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. She came to Columbia, with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, to complete her dietetic internship. Currently she is working on a Master’s of Science in Health Promotion and Nutrition. She enjoys staying busy with traveling, family and friends.

About Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital
Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital is South Carolina’s first pediatric hospital and celebrated its 30th birthday in 2013. Each year, Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital treats more than 80,000 sick and injured children. As a major pediatric referral center, Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital maintains more than 30 medical subspecialties devoted strictly to children. For more information, visit PalmettoHealth.org/ChildrensHospital.

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