(Meredith) – Believe it or not, back-to-school time is just around the corner. You can make this year a great one for your child by giving them the right nutrition.

Cynthia Sass, Registered Dietitian & Contributing Nutrition Editor for Health magazine, said there are five components to a healthy, well-balanced packed lunch for kids. Those categories are:

  1. At least one serving of fruits or vegetables for vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants
  2. A lean source of protein for fuel and focus
  3. A source of healthy fat to boost satiety
  4. A source of healthy carbs for both physical and mental energy
  5. A good-for-you treat to satisfy a sweet tooth but also provide more key nutrients

Sass provided three examples of full, balanced packed lunches that meet the requirements of these five categories. Keep in mind, some foods alone meet more than one nutrition category.

Lunch option 1

FRUIT OR VEGGIES: Cut vegetables (sliced red bell pepper, sliced cucumber, or carrots)

PROTEIN AND FAT: Hummus to dip the veggies in

HEALTHY CARBS: Popped popcorn

TREAT: Fig bar

Lunch option 2


PROTEIN AND FAT: Nut butter or sunflower butter

HEALTHY CARBS: Whole grain bread

TREAT: Gluten-free brownie or oatmeal chocolate chip cookie

Lunch option 3


PROTEIN AND FAT: Almond yogurt

HEALTHY CARBS: Granola bar

TREAT: Sunflower butter cup

Also, don’t forget to pack a water bottle for your child to refill throughout the school day.

Outside of lunchtime, you can teach your child more healthy habits by taking just 10 or 15 minutes every morning to have a family breakfast.

“It models the importance of breakfast but it’s also some family time, and it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate,” Sass said. “Even a bowl of a whole-grain cereal that’s lower in sugar with some fresh fruit can be a great breakfast meal.”

Sass said you should also have your child involved with preparing and packing their own lunch for school.

“We want to teach them which foods fall into each of those five categories that we talked about, so they learn how to build these meals on their own when they get a little bit older,” Sass said.

An after-school snack is also a great time for kids to get in some key nutrition to keep them going. Sass said a good option would be a smoothie made with frozen fruit, oat milk and a handful of leafy greens. Another healthy choice would be energy balls made with nut or seed butter, rolled oats, cinnamon and chocolate chips. Fresh fruit “is always a good choice,” Sass said, or even a savory snack like tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole.

For more nutrition tips for both you and your child, pick up a copy of Health magazine or visit health.com.


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