Healthy Lunches for Kids Going Back to School

August 16, 2022
Melissa Semp

August signals summer’s end and school’s beginning for millions of Americans nationwide. While children coordinate their “first-day” outfits with friends, parents worry about things like, “what do I pack for lunch 5-days in a row?” We spoke to Melissa Semp, APRN-NP, Family Nurse Practitioner who specializes in Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago about what to pack for even the pickiest eater.

There are many benefits to packing a lunch for your child. It helps you control costs but more importantly, it lets you be in control of what your child is eating. Melissa said, “With the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of children gain weight in a short amount of time which has significantly increased the number of children presenting with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)*, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)^. Thankfully, changes in diet and increased exercise can, in most cases, reverse the symptoms of fatty liver disease+ and improve liver function.”

Melissa’s Top 7 Tips

  • Pack a lunch that has variety – think the colors of the rainbow. Half of their lunch should be fruits and vegetables.
  • Add whole grains, protein or a small amount of low-fat dairy.
  • Eat food in its whole form. For example, eating a piece of fruit, like an apple, is better than drinking apple juice. Fiber and other nutrients, which help you feel full, are removed when foods are processed.
  • Good snacks for kids include whole fruits, whole grain snacks like oatmeal and air-popped popcorn and low-fat dairy like yogurt and cottage cheese.
  • Since most schools are now nut-free, hummus is a great alternative to peanut butter - and it comes in both sweet and savory flavors so you can mix and match with veggies, fruits, rice cakes and more.
  • Try to avoid sugary sweets and high-fat dairy and meat products.
  • Give your child water only. Juices have zero nutritional value and adds unnecessary sugar to your child’s diet.

Read the Labels!

When shopping for pre-packaged snacks, look at the nutrition labels. Melissa said, “Pay attention to the serving size. Calorie counts may seem low at first glance but there could be more than one serving in a container.” Also check to make sure that the food is not high in sodium and saturated fat. Instead, look for something high in dietary fiber which will keep your child feeling full for longer.

Help for Picky Eaters

If you have a fussy eater, it can be even harder to find healthy options you can be confident your little one will enjoy during the day. Melissa said, “continue to offer your child different foods to see if they will expand their food preferences. When cooking and baking, you can use small amounts of fruits and vegetables as a substitute for things like vegetable oil. Doing this does not change the taste but will improve how nutritious the food is. Do not be afraid to get creative!”

Exercise Matters

In addition to a healthy diet, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days of the week. Parents can lead by example and set healthy goals for the entire family. Consider enrolling your child in a school sport or go for a walk or bike ride together as a family in the evening. You can even ask your child to help you shop for and prepare their foods to further promote healthy eating and foster family bonding.

To learn more about liver health, find healthy recipes and learn how you can prevent liver disease, visit the Health & Wellness area on our website.

*Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has been newly renamed metabolic dysfunction associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD)

^Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) has been newly renamed metabolic dysfunction associated steatohepatitis or MASH

+Fatty liver disease has been newly renamed to steatotic liver disease or SLD

Last updated on January 18th, 2024 at 09:06 am

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