Packing a healthy lunch or snacks for students can be more than just a morning scurry to put something together; the whole process can be turned into a life-long learning opportunity for children, said Clovis Unified registered dietitian Nancy Whalen.
“Parents can try to incorporate their kids into the whole process as much as possible depending on their age and try to tie it into academic, which can include spelling and writing,” Whalen said. “As far as wellness and going to the grocery store and you can teach money management as well. We can make this a whole-home economics course.”
First begin by helping the student choose the meal with one thing in mind – snacks and lunches are meant to fuel the body and provide energy in calories for active kids, said Clovis Unified nutritionist Tawnie Kroll.
Websites like choosemyplate.gov and eatright.org can help generate ideas as well as provide nutritional information broken down by age groups to give parents a better understanding of what nutrients children need to succeed in the classroom.
Fruits and vegetables are always a good choice for snacks because they provide a healthy alternative to processed foods which contain simple sugars, like candy, soda and chips, said Germain Galvez, a certified health coach and wellness educator. Fruits also have other nutrients like fiber and antioxidants.
“These processed foods and simple sugars can lead to many imbalances in the body, like mood swings,” Galvez said. “The problem is these simple sugars are not a natural form of sugar that is assimilated in the body the way it should be and they create insulin spikes.”
It’s also important, added Galvez, to look for non-GMO, organic fruits and vegetables because they do not contain pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that can also create imbalances in the body.
Once a meal or snack is picked, the child can then write their own shopping list. This can help with learning how to spell words and writing skills, Whalen continued. Going shopping with the students can also be a learning opportunity because they can get a feel for how the grocery store is laid out and learn how to pick nutritious items.
By doing this children can learn which produce is seasonal, and they can also learn how to choose healthy alternatives.
One good option is to choose whole grain bread instead of processed bread, Galvez said. Whole grains contain B vitamins which help keep kids energized throughout the day.
Nuts, flax seeds and chia seeds are also a healthy option to add to snacks. These items contain Omega 3s which are healthy fats that help with brain function.
Once all the food is home, parents and children can both participate in the assembling of the snacks or lunches.
Whalen emphasizes the importance to create a well balanced plate which should include half vegetables and fruits and the other portion whole grains and lean meats or other choices of protein like beans or dairy.
One way parents can encourage their kids to eat these healthy foods is by making them look fun. Many times kids can look at healthy foods as being boring or different because they are not decorated like processed foods, Galvez said. Some parents use decorations like cupcakes sleeves to package the items or cut fruit and vegetables into shapes. Making the foods visually appealing can be an easy way for parents to sell the healthy foods to their kids.
“Just as far as practicality, I think preparing something the night before and putting it packed in the refrigerator the night before and all you have to do is grab it in the morning,” Whalen said. “That would make the morning go more smoothly than trying to assemble a meal right before you are trying to rush out the door.”
The only concern Whalen voiced was for parents to make sure food was sent at proper temperature.
“Any hazardous food like meats, cheeses, milk, yogurt, eggs or any sandwiches should be properly insulated with an ice pack would be the best way to send it,” she said.
Although, she added, every school in Clovis offers both breakfast and lunch and the campus catering department will be happy to serve each student nutrition food every day.
To keep parents aware of what food is offered at each campus, Clovis Unified has created a program called Nutrislice, and http://cusd.nutrislice.com/ is the website where parents are able to see all the schools menus online as well as nutritional information.
There will also be a free app launched along with the website in the beginning of the school year.