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The Healthy Lunchbox
What's in your child's lunchbox?

The food industry wants you to believe that it should include prepackaged food high in salt, fat and sugar. However, to maintain your child's health – to prevent obesity and the future risk of heart disease and diabetes – it's important to provide food that's just the opposite.

That means a meal low in fat, low in sugar, low in salt and high in fiber. To be more precise, your child's lunch should include one serving of fruit, at least one vegetable, one protein source (such as beans, cheese or lean meat), milk or another food high in calcium, and one or two servings of whole-grain bread or crackers.

With that in mind, use these guidelines when it comes time to filling your child's lunchbox:

1) Include a piece of fresh fruit in every lunch if you can. If that's unavailable choose an unsweetened alternative, such as natural applesauce or canned fruit in its own juices.

2) Include at least one vegetable at lunch, as well as at every meal. If you introduce vegetables to your child at an early age, he or she is likely to find them appealing. Examples include fresh baby carrots, celery sticks, cucumber slices, green beans (fresh or steamed), sliced sweet bell pepper, and cooked garbanzo or soybeans.

3) For added fiber, choose whole-grain bread for sandwiches.

4) Include calcium-rich food for strong bones: low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheese, such as string cheese, are two options.

5) Choose low-fat alternatives to luncheon meats. Instead of pastrami, salami, bologna or corned beef, choose healthier options, such as turkey or chicken. Tuna fish is another good source of protein, though it shouldn't be eaten more than once a week because of mercury contamination. Also, avoid heavy use of mayonnaise on sandwiches to lower fat intake.

6) Consider hummus on a mini pita as an alternative to meat sandwiches.

7) For old standbys like peanut butter and jelly, choose peanut butter without added oil or sugar and whole fruit preserves rather than sugared jellies.

8) Don't include sodas, fruit drinks or sports drinks with lunches. Choose low-fat milk (1 percent), 100 percent fruit juice or water as healthier alternatives.

9) Avoid salted, oily foods like potato chips. Popcorn, whole-wheat low-fat crackers or unsalted pretzels are healthier.

10) Steer away from cakes or candy in lunches. If your child craves sweets, offer more nutritious options such as grapes, raisins, dates or cantaloupe.

Offering a variety of colors and textures will expand your child's palate, fostering an appreciation for a wide range of food. Let your child share in meal preparation, choosing which fruit or vegetable to include in the day's lunch, for example. As you encourage nutritious eating, you'll be establishing habits that will have a lasting effect on your child's good health.
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist