DETROIT - As summer winds down, it's time for many families to get back into the school lunch groove. Some parents say it can be a challenge to pack great lunches their children will really eat.
"It is definitely a challenge. I can only hope they go to school and eat that apple and not throw it in the garbage," said mother of three, Wanetta Scott.
Once parents hit the grocery store, there are so many things to pack you might not know where to start. So, Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer went grocery shopping with Gail Posner, a nutrition counselor, to get some pointers.
They talked about four things to always keep in mind, no matter what you are packing to make sure your child is eating a healthy school lunch.
"You want to make sure you have a good protein source, you want to make sure you have a calcium source," said Posner. "You want to have a fruit or vegetable or maybe both, and a whole grain."
And just because you are eating healthy, doesn't mean you have to give up your budget either.
"Many of the convenient foods that come in the little prepackage are the expensive foods. And fruits and vegetables when they are in-season are not expensive and when they are out of season you can go to the frozen variety." Posner told Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer.
The responsibility of planning and making school lunch doesn't have to be completely on the parent either. Posner suggests that parents should get their child involved with school lunch planning.
"Get on the internet, there are plenty of recipes to talk to your child about," Posner said, "and say hey would you like this, would you like that."
Posner also suggests that parents should be creative with their child's school lunch.
"So some examples, how about cheese and crackers and fruit. Doesn't have to be a sandwich. Instead of the boring sandwich on plain bread, try putting it on an english muffin, or a roll up sandwich." said Posner. " How about peanut butter with apples, not necessarily a peanut butter sandwich, or try some variety of butters. There is almond butter, there is sunflower seed butter, so we can do diversity of the different nuts and improve the diet that way."
And lets not forget about dessert. Though it is important to encourage your child not to have something sweet at the end of every meal, there are healthy alternatives to dessert that will satisfy their sweet tooth.
" You know fruit can be a delicious, sweet way of ending a meal, or little boxes of raisins," Posner said. "There are some very convenient "Kind Bars" that would have your fruit and nuts all pressed together. That could make a good sweet ending or a great snack."
When your child looks for a cookie try healthy alternatives like whole grain pretzels, whole grain bread sticks, or baked lentil chips.
"Cookies are an occasional type of add on." said Posner.
It is also important for your child to stay hydrated throughout the day.
"If you get a little dehydrated, focus is going to go too," said Posner. Posner also suggests to stay away from the sugary drinks and juices. If your child
insists on taking a juice box to school, opposed to milk or water, make sure you read the label and buy 100 percent juice.
"A juice can work, but you want to make sure you buy something that says 100 percent juice. There are so many juice like products on the market that are really just sugar and you are not getting the antioxidants of the juice." said Posner.
But perhaps the biggest mistake that parents make when it comes to their child's school lunch is not asking them how lunch was when they get home from school.
"Several times the kid will take their lunch to school, trade it, throw it out, and not eat it. And if the parent doesn't ask, the same lunch can go over and over to school and it doesn't get eaten." said Posner. " Another mistake that happens all the time is lack of variety. If you keep sending the same lunch the child will get bored with it and you can totally take that food out of their diet because they are bored with it."
Eating a healthy school lunch will help your child focus and succeed at school. For more ideas, recipes, and ways to start the healthy conversation with your child go to choosemyplate.gov.
Finally, if you're looking to put some new meals in your child's lunch box, Posner says its a good idea to start serving some of those meals the week
before schools starts to make sure you're kids like them, and will enjoy when in the school cafeteria.
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