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NMSU dietetic interns offer tips on packing healthy school lunches

While many school cafeterias nationwide are increasingly offering more nutritious fare, 40 percent of children still take their own lunch to school, according to the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.


Photo of a man and a woman sitting at a table with two plates of food in front of them
NMSU Dietetic Internship program students Jake Edmiston, left, and Wendy Bricco-Meske display two examples of healthy lunches for students going back to school. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)
Photo of food items
Students in the NMSU Dietetic Internship program suggest parents prepare their child's school lunches using the USDA?s MyPlate website as a guide, including whole wheat breads and tortillas and plenty of fruits and vegetables. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chavez)

Parents also like the option of knowing exactly what their child is eating, whether it be because of food allergies or other dietary restrictions, which is why experts at New Mexico State University are offering tips to parents on how to make sure they?re packing a healthy lunch for their kids.

Jake Edmiston and Wendy Bricco-Meske are two NMSU graduate students enrolled in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Dietetic Internship Program. In order to obtain their degrees, dietetic interns complete a minimum of 1,200 hours interning at food service management, community nutrition and clinical facilities. Each semester, students rotate between each type of facility take courses and participate in a community-based research project.

Bricco-Meske said it?s important for parents to send their children with healthy lunches so they?ll stay full and focused on learning throughout the day.

?When kids go to school, we want them to have enough energy and learn as much as they can,? Bricco-Meske said. ?By parents sending healthy lunches with their kids, they?ll know that their brains are going to be functioning to full capacity and they?ll come home with all kinds of new knowledge.?

Among the tips Bricco-Meske recommends are following the nutritional guidelines listed at U.S. Department of Agriculture?s ChooseMyPlate.gov website, using cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes and listening to your child about their likes and dislikes when it comes to food.

Edmiston said he recommends introducing vegetables in a way that will encourage children to eat them.

?I would reference some of the vegetables and fruits in a story. For example, tell them that broccoli makes you really strong, or maybe have them draw pictures,? Edmiston said. ?You can also ask them about what they?re willing to eat and then maybe add a couple of vegetables that they?re not wiling to eat to see if they?ll try those as well.?

Edmiston said parents should also make sure their children are getting enough quality protein. Food items high in protein include low-sodium deli meats, beans and nuts. Half the food items on their plate should also consist of fruits and vegetables, and any grain-based items should be made of whole grains that don?t have hydrogenated oils.

Here are some tips on packing healthy lunches for school:

? When making sandwiches or wraps, make sure to purchase products that are 100 percent whole grain and do not have hydrogenated oils.

? Cut wraps into smaller bites or sandwiches into playful shapes (stars, animals). Cookie cutters can be used for this.

? Use vegetables for dipping into a healthy dip like hummus or a savory yogurt.

? Mix fruit into smoothies or yogurt to satisfy a sweet tooth.

? If purchasing fruit cups look for ones that have no added sugars

? When packing meals use a reusable lunchbox with a cold pack to keep foods cold until lunch. If you do not have a lunchbox, double bag for better insulation.

? Buy reusable containers to save money and help the environment.

? Try to avoid overly processed meats. Look for deli cut meats with low sodium.

? Make extra servings of meals the day before and use them for lunches the next day or freeze for later in the week.
? Plan your kids lunches in advance and make dishes each Sunday with your child. Freeze them for later in the week. You?ll have dishes your child will enjoy and will have spent quality family time planning and making these meals.

? Provide children with a water bottle to refill as needed. This cuts down on buying water bottles.

? Milk can be bought at the school to ensure your child gets a cold, nutritious beverage.

? Have your child assist with the planning, preparation and packing of their lunch to ensure they will enjoy their meal.

Meal Ideas

? Meal 1: Whole grain tortilla filled with nut butter, banana, raisins and ground flax seed and cut into sections; applesauce cup (look for no sugar added); carrot, celery, broccoli, bell pepper or other vegetables for dipping; and spinach dip (yogurt, cottage cheese, spinach and dry soup mix).

? Meal 2: Whole grain tortilla filled with brown rice, choice of beans, shredded chicken breast, lettuce (or spinach, kale or mixed greens), diced tomatoes or salsa on the side, wrapped in parchment or aluminum foil; carrot, celery, broccoli, bell pepper or other vegetables; and no sugar-added yogurt (can be Greek) with fresh berries.

? Meal 3: Whole grain bread with sliced avocado, hummus, turkey (or other low sodium deli meat), lettuce and tomato (other options include pickles, black or kalamata olives, cucumber, sliced pepper or jalapenos); smoothie made with choice of fruit, lowfat milk or milk alternative and optional peanut butter, veggies, flax seed, chia seeds or other nuts (in a Thermos to keep cold); carrot, celery, broccoli, bell pepper or other vegetables; and hummus.

? Meal 4: Whole wheat pita pocket filled with grilled chicken strips, sliced red pepper, spinach, and hummus; fruit salad (pineapple, grapes, blueberries and cantaloupe); whole wheat crackers and sliced cheddar cheese

Source: Jake Edmiston and Wendy Bricco-Meske, NMSU