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Healthy lunches, healthy kids

Healthy eating habits starts in the home

Posted: September 15, 2008 9:23 p.m.
Updated: November 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The school year started and that means parents and kids are back in the habit of packing lunches.
But school lunches don't have to consist of sugary snacks and caffeinated drinks.

They can be a way for parents to teach their kids about good eating habits, one apple and celery stick at a time.

Working together
Local dietitians believe parents should work with their kids to make sure they get nutritious lunches they want to eat.
Making lunches together in the evenings is a good way to do this, according to Lisa Bryant, a registered dietitian who works per diem at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

Parents can save time by preparing their child's meal ahead of time while giving their kids a chance to offer input. So, when kids open their lunch bags the next day at school, they'll see meals that they want to eat, she said.
"You have to make healthy foods available for kids," Bryant said.

Going grocery shopping is another way for parents and kids to connect over healthy meals.

Bryant recommends families visit farmer's markets, like the ones regularly held in Valencia and Newhall, so kids can pick out fresh vegetables and fruits themselves.

Packing a smart lunch
When it comes down to actually making lunch, Susan Hirth, a local registered dietitian, suggests parents avoid "packaged, refined, snacky foods."

"Try to stick to whole foods, simple foods," she said.

Make sandwiches with whole grain breads and meats that have not been processed with chemicals. Instead of packing canned fruit, use whole fruits. "Stick to a healthy balanced diet," she said. That advice also goes for beverages. "Try to avoid soda pops and sweetened juices," Hirth said.

While some parents think fruit drinks are healthy, Hirth said they are often made from concentrate or contain added sugars, making milk and water the best options.

Bryant said parents shouldn't be limited to sandwiches when making lunches.

Leftovers are a smart option for parents who don't have a lot of time to prepare fresh meals. For example, chicken breasts from last night's dinner can be diced and mixed in with a whole wheat tortilla and cheese to make a healthy quesadilla, Bryant said.

Parents can be creative when it comes to exposing their kids to a variety of foods. "They may not like tomatoes, but they can cut them up and make a salsa," Bryant said. Carrots and celery are the traditional snacks for kids, but Bryant said sliced cucumbers and slices of cheese are other nutritious options.

Making it a habit
But convincing kids to eat healthy snacks can be tough.
"I think with all the advertising that goes on with television, kids get exposed to that," she said about the sugar-based snacks.

With each commercial, kids tell their parents that they want the newest sugar snack. It's that attention to sugar snacks that has led to an increase in obesity among adults and children, she said. Eating too many of those can cause long-term problems like obesity and diabetes.

"(Parents) need to set a good example," she said. "That's a very important thing." That means when parents buy healthy snacks for their kids, they need to eat them too. "Make it a family project," she said.

Packing lunches together and creating healthy snacks is something that is sure to make a difference later on.
"Unfortunately, whole foods cooking does take a little longer, but it's well-worth it in the long run," she said.


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