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Healthy back-to-school eating tips from the American Heart Association

You’ve got the backpacks ready - but what’s your plan for packing healthy back-to-school lunches?

The American Heart Association recommends packing a healthy lunch at home to ensure that kids get the nutrition they need without all the fat, calories and salt found in convenience foods and some school lunch meals. Too much salt, calories and fat can contribute to long-term health issues like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Today, about 1 in 3 American kids and teens is overweight or obese; nearly triple the rate in 1963. Among children today, obesity is causing health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol levels.

Starting strong:

Healthy eating really starts before your child even leaves for school. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Breakfast can be traditional, like cereal, toast with peanut butter, and a banana, or it can be something different. Leftover pizza, soup, or salad could be breakfast food. The important aspect is to eat breakfast and get protein and fiber to start your day strong.

Tips on packing healthy lunches:

When packing a healthy lunch, experts suggest choosing from the rainbow of foods in your supermarket’s produce department. Include foods that are red (red peppers, apples, tomatoes), orange (carrots, peaches), green (salad, celery sticks, grapes) and choose foods from the different food groups. And, pack healthy drinks such as water or low-fat milk. Skip the soda, it’s liquid candy they don’t need.

Not the same old sandwich…

Pack hummus with fresh veggies and whole wheat pita triangles or flatbreads for dipping. Hummus is a good low-fat protein source and is high in iron and vitamin C. Or try low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese with carrots, cherry tomatoes, fresh berries, or melon for a calcium-rich, high-protein lunch. But, a peanut butter and jelly is one of my favorites, or a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato on whole grain bread. Just don’t forget a fruit or veggie to snack on.

Didn’t pack a lunch?

There are many healthy options to choose from in the lunch line at school, some of them are healthier than others. Encourage kids to choose fruits and vegetables instead of French fries or chips and look for grilled meat instead of fried. There is also always low-fat milk.

Hungry after school?

When it comes to after school snacks, think energy, not fatty, high-calorie. Snacks are important, it’s hard to get all the nutrition you need in just three meals a day, and it can be tough to go between meals without food. Good snacks can include pretzels, granola or protein bar, baby carrots or fruit. Fruit can be dried, canned, or fresh. You can even stick bananas or grapes in the freezer for a frozen treat - a little something different.

Plus, cereal is not just for breakfast. High-fiber, low sugar cereals are fortified with vitamins and nutrients. Pour a serving size and add low-fat or skim milk for a satisfying snack that most kids can get for themselves (and that I love)!

Planning is important for your child’s eating habits. Take them grocery shopping with you, they are more interested and feel like they are more a part of the choice selection. If they pick out the broccoli for dinner they are less likely to complain and more likely to be excited about it!

QUICK TIP: Back to school lunchbox strategies:

  • Get lunch ready right after dinner when you’re in the kitchen or the night before.
  • Pack leftover dinners in lunch-size containers.
  • Keep dressings on the side to prevent soggy lunches.
  • Freeze healthy drinks to keep your lunch cool.
  • Rinse and pack fruit & veggies in snack bags on Sunday night, so they’re ready to go all week long.
  • If you’re buying convenience lunches or snacks, look for those with fewer than 100 calories and the least amount of sugar, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.
  • Kids eat more fruit when it’s already cut up. Try oranges and pears or Cortland apples since they’re slow to brown.

For more information and recipes, visit the American Heart Association at

Happy first day back to school Southern Tier!!!

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