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Include Lunches in Your Back to School Lists | August 20, 2009

Extreme fruit bites, omega 3 high fiber apple bars and vegetarian breakfast burritos were just some of the healthy new food items that were debuted at the North Idaho School Lunch Conference in Kellogg last week.  I love the school lunch program, so I’m always excited to attend these events and sample new foods for kids.  I was very impressed!

Parents, as you prepare to send your children back to school next week, the school lunch program is still the best deal in town.  School lunches must meet 1/3 of the Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories and they are low in fat and saturated fat. Elementary school lunches run around $2.20 and high school lunches around $2.70.  Plus many children qualify for free or reduced price lunches.  For more information on school Child Nutrition Programs visit:  http://www.sde.idaho.gov/site/cnp/parentsPlace .

A packed lunch doesn’t automatically insure that your child is eating healthy either. In fact, most packed lunches score a D- when it comes to nutrition.  Healthy foods should be included on the list of back-to-school supplies for your children. If you pack cupcakes, cookies and potato chips, that's not a nutritious meal! Avoid packaged lunches because they tend to be very high in sugar and fat and low on nutrients.  When children consume high fat, high sugar meals, their bodies will crash and they will become very tired and lethargic—which won’t help them perform at their best level in school.

There’s no one-size-fits all lunch.  Pack your child’s favorite sandwiches, wraps or pitas, but be sure to include some favorite fruits and vegetables as well.  Include whole grain bread or tortillas with a lean protein, such as tuna, turkey, or chicken.  If milk is not an option, freeze tube yogurts which can serve as a calcium rich dessert and should still be nice and cold at lunch time.   For variety add salsa, hummus, bean dips, with baked chips and veggies or fruit cups to lunchboxes, since these foods contain more vitamins and fiber than traditional lunchbox foods.  And don’t forget that little mom extra—the chocolate kiss!

Breakfast is the other school list essential. Many studies have linked eating breakfast to higher test scores.  Most schools also offer the School Breakfast Program.  If your children refuse to eat breakfast (a typical teen behavior—sleep an extra 10 minutes or eat breakfast) sign them up for school breakfast, or stick a granola bar, breakfast bar, muffin or banana into their lunch so that they can at least have a midmorning snack. 

A balanced diet for the school aged child is so important, because it enables neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) to function more efficiently, resulting in increased ability to concentrate and improved memory. Diet and nutrition have a huge impact on how well children learn, so make meals a top priority on your back to school lists.