Childhood nutrition is very important, therefore, today I want to share with you several ways that you can build a healthier happy meal. Research suggests that the foods that we eat as children greatly affect our health later in life and can even help prevent or in other cases, promote diseases such as cancer. You and I both know that old habits die hard. Because of this, it is crucial to build healthy eating habits from a very young age. Here are 7 ways to build a healthier happy meal that are both nutritious and delicious for your children.
When it comes to making a healthier happy meal, balance is key. Just like adults, children need a meal that contains all three food groups in order to function properly and to the best of their ability all throughout the day. A meal made up of lean proteins like beans, Greek yogurt, chicken breast, turkey breast, etc., carbohydrates like fruit, veggies and whole grains, as well as an adequate amount of fat like nuts, nut butters, seeds, olive oil, and avocado, etc. The carbohydrates will provide energy, the fat will slow down digestion helping to keep them feeling full, and the protein will aid in immune function and growth.
2. Think outside of the Traditional Sandwich
Day after day, the same ol’ sandwich can get rather old…for kids too! Most sandwiches are made on white bread with unhealthy lunch meat and highly processed, sodium filled cheese. I want to challenge you to think beyond the conventional sandwich and serve your child up something a bit healthier. Depending on your child’s preference, something like a veggie and hummus pita, a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread or a veggie filled whole-grain wrap will be a much healthier option.
3. LeftOvers for the Win
One of the easiest ways to help your child pack a healthier lunch is to send them out the door with healthy leftovers. Since many kids claim they don’t like leftovers, I’ve seen a lot of moms freeze a child-sized portion of dinner each night and then instead of sending last night’s meal with their child, they send something that they froze from the week before. This way the child isn’t tired of the food that they are being served. Throw in a few new things like a yogurt, apple slices and mixed nuts and your child will think you whipped that meal up specifically for them! This saves time and prevents a lot of waste in the kitchen too!
4. Fill up on Fruits and Veggies
The basis of every lunch, regardless of age, should be fruits and veggies. These are the foods that will provide your body with the vitamins and minerals that it needs to stay healthy, strong and disease-free. Add fruits and veggies wherever you can to ensure that your child is getting 5-9 servings per day. Depending on your child’s preferences, toss them in a salad, send them raw with a dip, pack them on a sandwich, or sneak them in their soup… whatever you have to do to help them get them in, do it! It’s worth it!
5. Healthier Desserts
Instead of a nutritious meal, most lunch boxes are full of processed foods that are hard to even consider food. Prepackaged cookies, sodas, gummies, etc., all of these foods are high in disease-causing sugar which will do anything but help your child focus at school. Instead of these sweet treats, fill up their lunch box with natural sweets. A few of my favorites include unsweetened applesauce, dried fruit, fresh fruit or plain yogurt with fresh berries. These foods will aid in your child’s health instead of rob it.
6. Snack Attack
Another thing to think about when sending your child to school with a nutritious lunch is the amount of time that goes by between their meals. Many children eat lunch as early as 10 am, leaving them without anything to eat until after school gets out, sometimes as late as 4 pm. Just like you and I would get hungry during this six hour stretch, so do kids. Some of them don’t even eat lunch until long after 1 pm, and since many kids still don’t eat breakfast, this leaves them with a low blood sugar and no energy during the most important part of the day. Send them to school with healthy snacks that can be easily eaten in a quiet classroom. Things like nuts, seeds, healthier granola bars (3 or more grams of fiber and 5 or more grams of protein), fruit slices with peanut butter, veggie sticks with hummus, cheese slices with whole grain crackers, yogurt and some trail mix or any other healthy option that they would enjoy.
Another important thing to consider when helping your child pack a healthy lunch is what they will drink, not only with their lunch but throughout the day too. If it were up to me, both soda and sports drinks would be banned from all schools. These beverages are high in sugar and calories and void of any nutrition. Instead of sending your child to school with disease-causing sugar sweetened beverages, send them with dressed up water instead. Fill a fun water bottle with ice and water and then add in their favorite fruits like lemon, lime, strawberries, oranges or anything else that will help them drink more water throughout the day!
By making a few small changes while they are young, children can live long healthy lives. These good habits will stick with them throughout the years preventing them to deal with the negative health consequences many of us are facing today. Does your child eat a healthy lunch? If so, what is his/her favorite thing?