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With childhood obesity at epidemic proportions, school lunches are getting a second look. According to the CDC, “Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 19.6 percent in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0 percent to 18.1 percent.”
Now that school is back in full swing you can help empower your kids to make healthy food choices. According to KidsHealth.org, you should explain food choices to kids and their nutritional value, “Look over the cafeteria menu together. Ask what a typical lunch includes and which meals your kids particularly like. Recommend items that are healthier, but be willing to allow them to buy favorite lunch items occasionally, even if that includes a hot dog.”
If you have the time, of course the most nutritious way to help keep your kids on track is to pack them a homemade lunch. Take your kids to the grocery store with you and teach them about food labels.
Have them compare the ingredients and calories of different snacks. For example, show them just how many snacks contain unhealthy additives such as trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup.
KidsHealth.org offers several suggestions on how you can makeover your kids’ lunches. For example, instead of high-fat lunch meats such as bologna and salami, opt for low-fat meats such as turkey. Use whole grain breads instead of white bread for sandwiches.
If your kids like mayonnaise, use a lighter version or turn them on to mustard. If they like chips, go for healthier options such as baked instead of fried or even better air-popped popcorn, as well as veggies and dip.
Snack packs are convenient, but when it comes to fruit make sure they are packed in natural juices or cut up fresh fruit. If your kids have a sweet tooth, send them to school with homemade trail mix, yogurt or homemade baked goods, such as oatmeal cookies made with all natural agave or honey.
Of course, what your kids drink at lunch can also pack on the calories and sugar.