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VA Parents: What's In Your Kid's Lunchbox?

PHOTO: Nutritionists recommend including some combination of two fruits and two vegetables in a child's lunchbox, and having them help with the selection and lunch-packing process. Photo courtesy of HealthyChild.org.
PHOTO: Nutritionists recommend including some combination of two fruits and two vegetables in a child's lunchbox, and having them help with the selection and lunch-packing process. Photo courtesy of HealthyChild.org.
July 30, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. - The start of the school year is just weeks away - and while there's no shortage of the latest backpacks and school-supply displays at the big-box stores, nutrition experts are reminding parents of the importance of what's in their child's lunchbox as well.

Nutritionist Dr. Keith Kantor, author of "The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice," said packing a healthy lunch starts with what you give your child to drink.

"One thing that we all overlook is what the children drink," he said. "What most parents do is, they give them something like a Juicy Juice - and they're empty calories, because it's sugar; or they have artificial sweeteners in there, which isn't good for you, either."

Instead, Kantor recommended making your own flavored water by crushing berries or mint in a pitcher as a healthier and cheaper alternative - and a project with which kids can help.

It's important to include at least two fruits and/or vegetables, some lean protein and a healthy fat as a part of a child's lunch, Kantor said.

Pre-packing and planning the night before will help parents avoid falling into the habit of grabbing processed, low-nutrient foods for children's lunches, he said, adding that getting them "invested" in what's in their lunchbox also is key.

"If you have the kids help you while you're doing it and they're engaged, then they take ownership of it," he said, "and they're not throwing away the lunch that you made for 'em, and trading with somebody who has something unhealthy."

A 2013 study by Baylor College of Medicine found that home-packed lunches were less likely to include fruit, vegetables and dairy-based foods than lunches purchased at school. Experts also advise parents to make lunch portion sizes appropriate for the child's age and dietary needs.

Kantor's website is drkeithkantor.com. The Baylor study is online at bcm.edu.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA