Back to school: Packing a balanced lunch and making sure your child eats it

Dietitian shares expert advice
Posted at 6:30 AM, Aug 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-15 08:01:13-04

The daily routine will change this week for thousands of families across the metro as school goes back in session. Part of the morning ritual for many families includes packing a lunch. 

Dietitians say what you put in your child’s lunchbox can make a big difference in the classroom. Too much sugar, and they crash. Not enough protein, and they may get a headache.

“Sometimes, if you're having specific issues with energy or headaches or sleepiness, you might want to look at the lunch," explained Diadra Harnden, a registered dietician at the College Park Family Care Center. "Do we have enough fuel to get through the day? Is my son or daughter crashing?"

She broke down the perfect lunch as follows:

  • Include protein for long term fuel
  • Carbohydrates, like crackers, provide quick energy
  • Good fats, like nuts, oils or guacamole, can power the brain and boost the immune system

“Greek yogurt's better than regular because it has more protein and less sugar,” said Harnden, giving examples of healthier choices.

She warned you should limit sweets, sodas and refined carbs like chips.

And watch out for wording like “no preservatives” or “whole grains” on packages. Harnden said that doesn’t automatically make an item healthy, but creates a “health halo.” She suggests you read the nutritional facts on the back to compare amounts of protein, sugar and carbohydrates.

Eve Kalkman, a local mother of two, stayed in the lunch-making habit over the summer. During an August visit to Loose Park, her boys took a break to eat cherries and Chex Mix from their lunchboxes.

“Chex don't have gluten in them,” said Kalkman, explaining her food choices.

When her children start school Wednesday, they will play a big role in making their own lunch.

“They are in charge of putting their lunch together,” said Kalkman. “They know what is expected by me. It has to have fruit.”

Harnden, the dietician, said if you include children in the decision-making process, they are more likely to eat what’s in their lunchbox. She suggests giving them options to choose from within healthy boundaries.

“If they're not on board, if they haven't made that selection," Harnden pointed out, "then all that money and time will get wasted."