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Healthy School Lunches for Kids

Posted by Integrative Medicine Team on Aug 28, 2017 4:13:00 PM

Healthy breakfasts and lunches can help kids get the nutrition they need. Our Lake Health Integrative Medicine team shares their favorite ideas for healthy breakfasts and school lunches: 

Start the day off right

Breakfast Oatmeal with Almonds.jpg

The key to a nutritious breakfast is combining a variety of different food groups to ensure energy and full bellies to get through the morning. Instead of sugary cereals, try: 

  • Plain Greek yogurt topped with fruit and low-fat granola
  • English muffin egg and cheese sandwich
  • Plain old-fashioned oatmeal topped with berries and slivered almonds
  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and sliced banana.

Keep lunch balanced

A balanced school lunch contains a variety of different food groups. An example of a balanced school lunch could be a whole wheat turkey and low-fat cheese sandwich, baby carrots, apple slices, pretzel sticks and milk. In general, aim for most lunches having items that fit into each of these groups: 

  • ½ cup fruit: fresh or frozen fruit without added sugar, canned fruit in 100% juice, 6 oz. of 100% fruit juice or ¼ cup dried fruit
  • ¾ cup vegetables: fresh, frozen or canned (drained) vegetables in a variety of colors
  • 1 ounce of grains: choose whole grains as often as possible
  • 1 ounce of meat or meat alternatives
  • 1 cup of milk: choose low-fat milk or yogurts.
Find healthy choices in the cafeteria School Cafeteria Salad Bar.jpg

Many schools participate in the National School Lunch Program, which aims to increase the availability of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, while decreasing sodium content in foods. Talk to your child about healthier options that might be available in their school, following this guide: 

  • If the school offers a salad bar, load up on leafy greens and other colorful vegetables. Encourage your kids to eat a "rainbow" of fruits and veggies. Top salads with a protein source such as a hardboiled egg, cheese or deli meats. Schools sometimes even offer pre-made salads that are easy to grab and eat.
  • Choose grilled and baked foods instead of breaded and fried foods. 
  • Ask for a side of cooked vegetables or raw if available.
  • Choose a piece of whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
  • Avoid over-processed foods, such as chicken nuggets and processed lunch meats.
  • Choose a low-fat milk or low-fat yogurt.

Smarter snack time

Parents often ask if snacking between meals or after school is healthy for kidsTo support growth, kids should consume three meals and two snacks per day. Quality snacks will ensure your child is receiving the appropriate nutrients to provide energy, feelings of fullness and a healthy metabolism. Examples include:

  • Apple slices with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • Raw vegetables and a low-fat string cheese
  • Homemade trail mix with nuts/seeds, dried fruit and mini pretzels. Add mini chocolate chips for sweetness.
  • Low-fat original or Greek yogurt topped with fruit
  • Air popped popcorn with Parmesan cheese.

Picky eaters

If your child is a picky eater, how can you sneak in more nutritious foods? The best way to introduce a new food is to pair it with a food that the child is already familiar with and enjoys. For example, if your child will eat only sugary cereals, mix together ½ sugary cereal and ½ plain cereal, such as Cheerios or Rice Chex. You also can blend fruits and veggies into smoothies - the fruit will help mask the taste of the vegetables! Even the pickiest of eaters can often be fooled by adding vegetable purees into sauces or casseroles they enjoy. If you're struggling with your child's eating habits, the registered dietitians at Lake Health Integrative Medicine can help teach healthier eating habits in a kid-friendly way and provide tips for keeping children active.

Topics: Healthy Diet, Kids