Make Brown Bag School Lunches Nutritious,
Make Brown Bag School Lunches Nutritious, Fun for Children
DENTON School cafeteria lunches offer the nutrition
children need to make it to the end of the class day. But
sometimes students want or in the case of a field trip may
even need to "brown bag it."
When that's the case, packaged lunches in the refrigerated
aisle of the grocery store are a temptation for many parents. But
Dr. Betty Alford, professor of nutrition and food sciences at
Texas Woman's University in Denton, said parents can prepare a
more nutritious lunch for their child and usually at a more
"A number of snack foods are marketed as good lunch
foods, but if you read their labels you'll see they're not,"
Dr. Alford said. Often, they're loaded with sodium, fat and empty
calories that won't carry a child through to the final class
"Children need about 2,000 calories a day, depending on
their age and activity level," Dr. Alford said. "About
a third of their daily calories should come from lunch.
"If they don't have enough calories and are hungry, they
don't learn because they either don't have the energy to or
because they get irritable."
A homemade school lunch should include fruits and vegetables
for vitamins and minerals, calcium for bone development and
"Fruits and vegetables can be in the form of fruit
juices, tomato juice or drinks like V8," said Dr. Alford.
Of course, fruits and vegetables from the produce section of
the market also work. "Smaller children like whole green
beans, which is a good source of their daily vegetables. Older
children could have raw vegetables with a dipping sauce. Salad
dressings make good dipping sauces, and they have the essential
fats children need." Yogurt also makes a good dipping sauce.
Milk is touted by nutritionists as the best source of calcium
for children. "Chocolate milk is okay," Dr. Alford
added. "There's not enough caffeine in it to make children
hyperactive. Calcium fortified juices also are good."
Meat, chicken, fish and eggs are excellent sources of protein.
However, Dr. Alford recommends staying away from luncheon meats
like bologna because of their high sodium and saturated fat
content. She also warns parents to keep food safety in mind when
packing a lunch that includes meat products.
"Non-refrigerated meats should be eaten within in four
hours. And the clock starts from the time the child leaves the
house," she said. That time frame can be extended by using
an insulated lunch bag, placing an ice pack in with the lunch or
even freezing a juice drink and letting it keep the lunch cool.
A good, non-meat source of protein most children already like
is peanut butter, which is also a good source of essential fats.
Spread on a slice of calcium fortified bread, it offers parents
convenience and children nutrition in a fun food.
Making food fun is one way of ensuring children eat what they
take to school.
Involving children in the brown bag decisions helps make it
fun, Dr. Alford said. "Experiment with foods. Let them taste
and discover what they like and don't like. Involve them.
"It also becomes an excellent way to teach children about
nutrition. If they want something that isn't good for them,
discuss it and healthy alternatives," she said.
Parental forethought also is essential when it comes to
preparing a nutritious school lunch, Dr. Alford said. "In
the morning, parents are rushing around doing so many things that
they might not have time to prepare a healthy lunch. Prepare it
the night before when there's time, and include your child."
Tips for Preparing a Healthy School Lunch
- Children should consume about 2,000 calories per day,
depending on age and activity level. Lunch should provide
about one-third of the day's calories
- Fruits, vegetables, milk, bread, meat, peanut butter are
good sources of vitamins, minerals, calcium, protein and
essential fats needed for the body's development
- Non-refrigerated meats must be eaten within four hours
- Avoid meats like bologna that are high in sodium and
- To make fruits more palatable, slice the fruit and dust
it with an artificial sweetener. Sugar will cause fruit
to wrinkle and make it unappealing
- Do not include sodas with a packed lunch. The high sugar
content amounts to empty calories
- If a child comes home extremely hungry, pack more
calories into the next brown bag lunch
Source: TWU Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences
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