Tips for back to school healthy lunches

A dietician offers tips on packing a healthy lunch for kids going back to school.
A dietician offers tips on packing a healthy lunch for kids going back to school.

MADISON COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - Little ones can be very picky at lunch time, but if you want to ensure they like what they are eating – and it's healthy – there are some guidelines for parents.

Linda Steakley is a registered dietician with the Wellness Center at Huntsville Hospital. She said get the school menu early and plan around it.

"What I think children should be doing is helping their parents prepare their lunch and I would even suggest that you take a look at what the cafeteria is serving each week," she said.

She said on certain days, the child may prefer to take a lunch and Steakley has plenty of menu suggestions and choices for the child from grains, proteins, fruits and veggies. Treats, she said, should be small.

"We might take out a few apple slices to include in the lunch, and what I've also prepared is some whole wheat – 100 percent whole wheat bagels. You can either put meat on these bagels or you can put peanut butter on them," said Steakley.

She said other alternatives could be a whole wheat bread, tortilla wraps or pita pockets - as long as it whole wheat.

"I'd like to add some sort of vegetable as well and that could be carrot slices or celery."

Tempting veggies can be dipped into low fat ranch dressing, and fruit is also very important. She suggests milk or water to drink.

Abigail Green will be a fourth grader at Hampton Grove Elementary School.

"When I go to school and I have lunch I like to take apples, cause they're very juicy and sweet and I like that. I like to take tortillas too."

Her brother, John David Green will be a second grader.

"A peanut butter sandwich, and I'd like an apple, and a Go-Gurt for after, and I'd like to take some carrots."

Steakley advises parents to use some creativity to make healthy foods fun.

"One of the things I like is to take a 100 percent whole wheat hot dog bun, open it up...put some good old peanut butter on top of this (…) Send a banana to school with the child, so when they get to school, they can make their own banana dog."

Before you decide what to put in your child's lunch box, make certain you do your homework, especially when it comes to reading the labels. Many products are high in sugar or they could contain caffeine.

Steakley says another trick is to make a sandwich with one slice of white bread and one of whole grain or whole wheat.  Pack it so that the white side is up in the container.  Gradually switch both slices of the sandwich to whole wheat or whole grain over time.

She also suggested making your own cheese and crackers or peanut butter crackers because there is no added sugar and you get more for your money with a greater amount of filling.

You can also try substitutes, like "Wow Butter," a substitute for peanut butter.

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