Pack Health into Back-to-School Lunches

 It’s back-to-school time! The American Heart Association offers some budget-friendly, creative ideas for back-to-school season to help keep kids happy and healthy at lunchtime.

Today, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. Among children today, obesity is causing a broad range of health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. Nutrition can go a long way toward preventing these illnesses in children. According to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded with the American Heart Association, American kids consume 35-50 percent of their daily calories while in school. Healthy lunches can have a big im

pact on children’s health.

Packing the kids’ lunches for school means you have control over which foods they are eating. Parents can manage nutritious meals, limiting on sugar, fat and sodium, even when the kids are at school.

Make a Smarter Sandwich

While some kids prefer the same thing every day, others want variety in their lunches. Sandwiches are easy, portable, kid-friendly, and easy to change up throughout the week.

  • Use different breads like 100% whole-wheat bread, tortilla wraps (choose wraps low in sat
    urated fat and made with no hydrogenated oils) or 100% whole-wheat pita pockets.
  • In addition to lettuce and tomato, try shredded carrot or zucchini and sliced cucumbers, peppers, or thin-sliced apple or pear with a turkey sandwich.
  • Choose lower-sodium lunch meats and cheeses.
  • Try avocado or hummus as a swap for cheese or mayo, or use them in a chicken salad instead of mayo.
  • Try leftover grilled chicken in your sandwich as a healthy swap for lunch meat.

Love Those Leftovers

Think about using the leftovers from a family favorite dinner for a next day lunch. Use a thermos to keep foods hot or cold until the lunch bell rings. The prepared or packaged versions of these foods sometimes have a lot of sodium, so make them homemade with little or no salt, or compare nutrition facts of similar products and choose the ones with less sodium.

  • Soup – tomato, vegetable or bean
  • Chili (vegetarian or made with lean or extra lean ground chicken)
  • Spaghetti or curly pasta salad (whole wheat with veggies and chicken added)
  • Bean casserole or beans & rice with vegetables.

Let Them Dunk

Try packing one of these fun but healthy foods with healthy dips alongside:

  • Apple and pear slices to dip into low-fat plain yogurt or peanut butter. Sprinkle cut fruit slices with lemon water to slow browning.
  • Crunchy carrot, celery and sweet red pepper strips to dip into hummus, fresh salsa or homemade bean dip.
  • Whole-grain, low-sodium, low-fat crackers or whole grain pita triangles to dunk into soup.

Avoid packing sugary drinks like “power” drinks, soda or sugar-added juices to your kids’ lunchboxes, or home meals. Water or school purchased milk are great options to reduce sugar in the diet. Children ages 2 to 18 should eat or drink less than six teaspoons of added sugars daily, according to the American Heart Association. Six teaspoons of added sugars is equivalent to about 100 calories or 25 grams. One can of soda has about ten teaspoons of sugar.

Get Kids Involved

When kids help pack their lunches, they’re more likely to eat that lunch! On nights you have a bit more time, like a Sunday night, have them choose which piece of fruit or what type of whole grain bread they want and let them assemble their lunch. Make this a weekly routine – it’s another great way to spend family time together. Learn more at, and get free recipes at

Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital is “Children’s Health Sponsor” of the Westchester Heart Walk, Saturday, September 29th at Kensico Dam. Registration is open at #HeartWalk914

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