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The kids are back in school and parents are back to packing school lunches. But how can we make them reasonably healthy and good enough to eat? It seems it s always a challenge. Here's some ideas.

What parents typically pack in lunchboxes

Most parents pack a sandwich, chips and a cookie. There s usually not much in the way of fruits or vegetables - and a slice of lettuce doesn't count. The maybe put some cheese on the sandwich. We are giving them food that is calorically high and the nutritional content doesn't equal the calories. And then there are those juice boxes. They have a lot of sugar and very little nutritional value. And we have a childhood obesity problem in this country.

What do kids need to eat for lunch?

They need food that is healthy, simple, low in sugar and salt. And they need to eat protein at lunch. It fills them up and takes longer to digest. And it s good for the brain - it helps make them more focused and energetic. Our kids aren't getting enough of this. Meat is a good source of protein, along with peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs or cheese.

Can what kids eat at lunchtime affect learning?

What they eat makes a huge difference. Kids who have an animal protein for breakfast generally score better on tests during the school day. And if they have protein at lunch, they are much more settled, calmer and have better recall. It can be hard for kids to maintain their mood and memory if they don t have protein in their system.

What are some good lunchbox tips?

Make sandwiches nutritious
Pack plain veggies
Bring, don t buy
Pack safely

Using whole wheat is good, and so is adding meat. Some ideas: Tuna sandwich wrap with light mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes; Egg salad sandwich on whole grain bread; Peanut butter, almond butter with a 100 percent fruit spread on whole grain bread; sliced turkey, lean roast beef, or chicken left over from last night's dinner with light mayonnaise, mustard, and a slice of cheese.

And fruit. Give vegetables to your kids plain without that dip you think they need. Instead, try packing hummus for the vegetables. Hummus has protein and more nutritional value. Slice apples or buy them already sliced, and it s easy to pack a handful of blueberries.

Most school lunches are very high in calories but are not very satisfying. The sodium content is off the charts and so is the fat content. There ll be lots of sugar and white flour in these lunches, and very few vegetables. You don t see a lot of fruit.

Many times, lunches kids bring to school are being stored at unsafe temperatures. This can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning. Next time you pack a lunch for your child, you might want to add some extra ice packs or make sure it gets refrigerated. Some sandwiches can be frozen, such as turkey and cheese, peanut butter and jelly.

For more information, go to the ParentMap website.

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