Planning to make school lunches is not an easy task. Getting ready for school in the morning is frequently very hectic, so picking out which foods your child will eat and what is healthy is not an easy task.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Back to School Tips gives pediatricians some information about school lunches. Most schools regularly send schedules of cafeteria menus home and/or have them posted on the school’s website. With this advance information you can plan on packing lunch on the days when the main course is one your child prefers not to eat. They advise that you look into what is offered in school vending machines, which should stock healthy choices.

While shopping in any grocery store, you will have noticed many neatly compartmentalized prepackaged foods designed to make packing a child’s lunch fast and easy. Unfortunately, with the threat of childhood obesity, these convenient products may help contribute to obesity.

It is important to make sure your children are getting nutritious lunches instead of refined and processed foods like chips, cookies and roll-ups. Processed foods keep well, but the process of making them stable strips the nutrients away and all that remains are sugars and artificial flavors.

The Academy recommends that children consume a good balance of foods from the five major groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy. It is important to pay attention and limit sugar intake as high-calorie diets contribute to obesity and dental problems.

Soda and juices are very popular beverages, but it has been calculated that a 12-ounce can of soda contains the same amount of sugar as 10 teaspoons of sugar. Parents may think that 100 percent fruit juice may substitute for a serving of fruit, but fruit juices may contain as much sugar or more than sodas.

Some suggestions for packing a healthy lunch are as follows:

• Avoid prepackaged, processed foods.

• Make sandwiches with whole wheat bread, not white and avoid processed lunch meats.

• Pack whole fruits or vegetables like carrots or celery sticks.

• Include dips like hummus or guacamole for the vegetables.

• Instead of packing chips or cookies, try whole wheat pretzels or crackers.

• Replace soda or juice with fat-free milk or water.

• Make sure that the lunch container is kept in a cool place or that there is something packed with the lunch to keep it cool enough to prevent the development of germs/toxins that cause food poisoning.

Consider asking your child to choose between two healthy snacks which gives them some choice while you the parent remain in control.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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