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Do's & Don'ts of Healthy Back to School Lunches

by Michael Lyndall

For the parent trying to encourage healthy eating habits, back to school can be a hard time. Gone are the well-balanced, home-cooked lunches of summer. Preparing these types of meals daily for the lunch box can be daunting and downright unrealistic.
But prepackaged, popular brown-bag options marketed to moms and dads around the country are often less healthy than the lunches offered in the school cafeteria. A recent study from Baylor College of Medicine found that meals from home are higher in sodium, plus 90 percent of those surveyed contained desserts, sweetened beverages and snack chips, not allowed under the National School Lunch Program guidelines.
How can you prepare a healthy meal for your child that can be packed in a lunch box and compete with their less wholesome counterparts?

Main Courses

Do: The sandwich can still be a lunch box mainstay, but you’ll want to limit the deli meats. Instead of lunchmeat, try making pulled pork or roast beef in a crockpot or slow cooker for sandwiches that will be savory, healthy and taste of home.
Don’t: Relaying too much on lunch meats is a risky practice. Processed meats contain sodium nitrate, which has been linked to heart disease and cancer.
Do: Use whole grain bread, or loaves with seeds, like the Good Seed from Dave’s Killer Bread. USDA Organic and NON-GMO certified one slice contains 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber thanks to seeds like sunflower, flax and sesame.
Don’t: White bread is a classic, but it’s made from refined grains and provides little to no essential nutrients. It has a high glycemic index, increasing your risk for weight gain, type-2 diabetes and heart disease.

Smart Snacking

Do: Veggie spears (carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers) with a side of hummus or guacamole for dipping satisfies the desire for something crunchy.
Or try making your own crispy kale chips, with this Organic Spa Magazine exclusive recipe:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Wash and dry kale leaves, and tear into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Lay them out on the parchment—do not overlap—and spray lightly with olive oil.
  5. Bake for 7-10 minutes, until crisp.
  6. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a pinch of cayenne.

Don’t: Potato chips are usually fried, kettle cooked or baked; methods that leave you with an unhealthy, but addicting snack. Plus, individual sleeves of chips create an enormous amount of waste and, though convenient, are not economical.

Brain-Boosting Beverages

Do: Freeze a reusable water bottle of H2O to do double duty as an icepack as well as replenish fluid lost on the playground at recess.
Organic milk and milk alternatives, like rice and almond, are another healthy choice for your child’s lunch. Kids need calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus, all found in milk and depending on their age, should be getting 2-3 servings of dairy per day.
Don’t: Conveniently packaged, fruit-flavored sports drinks and juice boxes are filled sugar and contain none of the nutrients or fiber from the fruits themselves.

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