Parents are encouraged to pack a healthy lunch for their child so he or she can receive all the nutritional benefits such as vitamins and minerals to achieve their best academic success this upcoming school year.
Lee Memorial Health System Clinical Outpatient Dietitian Marjorie Chutkan said although lunch is important, breakfast is very imperative for a child to have before they start their school day. She said even though many children complain that it is too early to eat breakfast or they just do not want to eat anything in the morning, they should still start their day off with a nutritional meal.
Chutkan said parents can prepare breakfast the night before, while making sure their kids are up early enough to have something to eat.
Parents can also prepare something that is simple and easy without too much fuss.
Breakfast, she said, can be as simple as a milkshake or a smoothie or some kind of cereal bar.
"I am very much in favor of kids having breakfast," Chutkan said. "I think breakfast will give them a jump start."
Due to the school day including both mental and physical activity, she said it is very important to continue that good nutrition for lunch as well.
"If they are not properly fed, they can't think," she said of the children. "They need good nutrition for mental and physical health."
Chutkan has read numerous reports that children are not receiving enough time to eat their lunches, as well as school lunches being dumped in the trash because it is not meeting the kids' preferences.
"Parents need to involve their kids in the lunch planning," Chutkan said.
Lunches should also be easily accessible and served conveniently for the child.
Before parents pack their child's lunch, they should ensure that the lunch bags are clean. By sanitizing the lunch bags, parents are ensuring it is safe for the child to use, while preventing the possibility of the child becoming sick.
It is also important that the lunch bags are insulated and have an ice pack to keep protein and dairy at the correct temperatures.
Lunches, Chutkan said, should contain something from each food group: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein.
"There are lots of good food items that are easy to pack," she said. "We really expect a variety of foods from the food groups."
Some options include a salad with spinach leaves, cheeses and dressing on the side.
Chutkan said parents are packing bread free sandwiches by using lettuce leaves for the wrap containing lunch meats or chicken and tuna salad. She said cracker sandwiches have also become a popular item.
If parents are packing fruit in a cup, Chutkan said, she generally recommends that the cups are full of water, its own juice or light syrup. If parents pack fresh fruit, she said it is important that it is cut up ready to for the child to eat.
Chutkan said parents do not want to give their child a whole apple and have them fighting with it the entire lunch period.
Other lunch ideas include sunflower seeds, pretzels, multigrain chips, high-fiber granola bars, cucumber slices, snow peas and grape tomatoes.
She said if a child wants milk for their lunch, white milk is the better option because it does not have any added sugar. If the child prefers flavored milk, parents can flavor it with sugar-free chocolate syrup.
Chutkan said she wishes parents would consider a balanced diet for their child instead of such items as juice boxes and chips.