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HOUSTON – Parents may urge their children to pack their lunch to lighten their own load during the busy school year but it also helps teach kids important lessons about nutrition and responsibility, said a Baylor College of Medicine expert.
“Allowing children to pack their own lunch provides a great opportunity for children to take on more responsibility as they get older,” said Dr. Teresia O’Connor, assistant professor of pediatrics – nutrition at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at BCM and Texas Children’s Hospital “It is also a great occasion to talk to your child about a balanced diet and teach about healthy balanced meals.”
Parents should offer a little guidance initially, however.
Younger children and parents should pack lunches together, and as the child gets older, he or she can take on more of the responsibility. This way, parents can teach their children what constitutes a healthy lunch. Later, parents can check in with them, learn the child’s preferences and help make sure that everything is available from the grocery store.
No matter who packs the school lunch, O’Connor recommends that it include a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables. Veggies can include carrot sticks, celery or some other cut up vegetable as well as sliced tomato or lettuce on a sandwich. Sandwiches can be made on whole wheat bread to get the whole grains recommended on Mypyramid.gov, a resource of the USDA (www.usda.gov). Low-fat or skim milk or water makes a great drink option.
Fruit is a good way to satisfy a sweet tooth, but a healthy lunch can still include occasional cookies or other sweets, O’Connor said.
“Sweet snacks have a place in a balanced healthy diet but the key is moderation,” O’Connor said. “If the child gets a sweet at lunch, give them different choices for their after school snack or after dinner. Think about what the child ate throughout the whole day.”
The same rules apply if your child decides to buy lunch at school. They should select foods from a variety of food groups, including fruits and vegetables.