What's in your child's lunchbox?

August 20, 2003

Sacramento, CA - August 20, 2003 - It's back-to-school time and time for parents to think about what their kids are eating. Over 16 percent of children nationwide are overweight and that percentage is expected to rise. Parents greatly influence what their kids eat and encouraging healthy eating habits is more important now than ever.

Preparing the right school lunch and snack foods is a challenge parents face at the end of each summer. Meals Matter -www.mealsmatter.org - is a free web site that can help take the guesswork out of what to prepare for lunch. The site's Back-to-School section contains advice for parents including lunch and snack recipes, nutrition information for kids and a feature called Ask the Dietitian.

"Parents have a huge responsibility to make sure what their kids eat is nutritious and at the same time, tasteful," states Debbie Allen, R.D. and one of Meals Matter's Ask the Dietitian experts. "A little planning and knowing what their kids like to eat will greatly reduce the stress of making lunches."

Besides breakfast, lunch is the second most important meal for school-aged children and provides one-third of their daily calories. One of the easiest ways parents can know if they're packing a nutritious lunch is to follow the food guide pyramid. A mixture of whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and lean lunchmeats provide a variety of lunch possibilities.

Prepackaged foods are a time-saver but Allen cautions parents to read the nutrient label and ingredients first. "Fats, trans fats, salt, added sugars and high calories are found in many pre-packaged snacks. Choose healthier options that provide sustenance and not empty calories."

The quantity of food packed is also important since portion size is another factor that contributes to overweight kids. One snack bag of chips may contain two or more servings. Pre-measuring items such as pretzels or cookies into the correct serving size shows kids just how much they should be eating of such foods.

The following are a few school lunch tips from Meals Matter:

"Lunches are a great opportunity for parents to influence their kids' eating habits," says Allen. "Involving kids in the process teaches them healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime."

Meals Matter - http://www.mealsmatter.org - is a non-commercial website supported by the Dairy Council of California staffed by registered dietitians and dedicated to promoting healthy food choices for families.

Dairy Council of California

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