(BPT) - As kids get ready to head back to school, it's time for parents to break out the lunch boxes and start planning for school lunches. The good news is that packing a healthy, nutritious school lunch - that's also kid-approved - may be easier than most parents think.
"Packing the perfect school lunch is about ensuring all five food groups are covered, choosing foods within those groups that kids like and adding variety to the lunch box to keep kids interested," says Elizabeth Somer, a nationally-recognized registered dietitian and author. "Getting kids involved in the lunch packing process isn't just a great way to ensure kids are getting a lunch they're excited about, it's also a good opportunity to begin to teach children about nutrition and health."
To make the school lunch packing process fun and easy, Somer and Horizon Organic, a leading organic dairy brand, partnered to create a back-to-school resource called "5 Lunch Needs and 50 Ways to Please." So what are the five lunch needs and why are they important? Somer outlines the essential food groups and explains why kids need all five for a balanced lunch.
Low-fat milk and calcium-rich foods (recommended 2 to 3 cups per day)
Why milk? Bones are the body's "bank account," and deposits can only be made until the early 30s. After that, it's withdrawals only. So, the bigger the calcium bank account, the better off you are later in life. The biggest benefits come in the early years when the body is able to deposit the most calcium into the bones. A great option in this group is Horizon Organic Milk with 32 mg DHA Omega-3 Single Serve Milk Boxes, which are the only milk boxes with DHA Omega-3, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that has been studied for its role in supporting healthy brain development.
Whole grains (recommended 4 to 7 ounces per day)
Why whole grains? Diets that are rich in whole grains and fiber help fill kids up. Unlike processed refined grains, many 100 percent whole grains are low in fat, high-fiber, and packed with vitamins and minerals. Between 100 percent whole grain bagels, tortillas and hamburger buns, there's something to please any kid's palate.
Vegetables (recommended 1 to 3 cups per day)
Why vegetables? It's hard to have a healthy lifestyle without a plate heaped with colorful veggies. Veggies are where kids get things like vitamin C and folate, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. With significant numbers of phytonutrients now identified in veggies and fruits, these foods are important components of a child's diet. Steamed edamame makes a great lunch box finger food.
Fruits (recommended 1.5 to 2 cups per day)
Why fruits? Fruits are also packed full of fiber, vitamins and minerals like veggies, but they come in a sweeter package. For example, a handful of dried apricots have more iron than a half cup of cooked mustard greens. Kids still need veggies, but on days when they turn up their noses at asparagus, slipping in a few more servings of fruit can make up the difference. Creative melon pieces thanks to fun-shaped cookie cutters are always a hit.
Meats, eggs, and legumes (recommended 3 to 6 ounces per day)
Besides protein, the foods in this group are sources of minerals, such as iron and zinc, and vitamins, such as B vitamins. Fatty seafood, such as salmon, contains omega-3 fats which are associated with brain development in children. It's best to stick to lean and minimally-processed meats to cut back on saturated fats and sodium. Mini sliders made with organic, ground chicken or turkey and 100 percent whole-wheat buns are a great lunch box alternative to sandwiches.
The full "5 Lunch Needs and 50 Ways to Please resource," is available at www.horizondairy.com/nutrition/dairy-nutrition.