Healthy lunches matter. For adults, students and young children alike, proper nutrition helps to boost mental function and physical health. In the United States, an estimated one out of three children are considered obese or overweight. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 16.7 million children lived in a home that experienced hunger more than once during 2008. Even when children have plenty of food to eat, studies show that they are not consuming enough vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
To provide a balanced diet, many schools use the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. An estimated 31 million students use the lunch program, and 11 million use the breakfast program. While these programs help to ensure that every student can eat during the school day, these meals alone are not sufficient. Today, it is more important than ever for students to get the nutrients that they need during lunchtime.
STAYING FOCUSED AND ENERGIZED
Skipping lunch makes it difficult to focus in class. Normally, a child's blood sugar gets a boost following lunchtime which provides the necessary energy they need to focus and pay attention. However, without the right food, children feel sluggish and unmotivated in the afternoon. In addition, lunchtime provides students with a much needed break that lets them relax, recharge and prepare for their next round of classes.
Beyond enhancing focus and energy levels, lunchtime helps students to maintain an appropriate weight. Studies show that that people who skip lunch and experience insufficient nutrition and hunger are more likely to be overweight due to insulin and cortisol spikes, which enhances the storage of fat . By eating lunch, children are able to maintain the right weight for their height. They also get a boost of nutrients, vitamins and minerals that they need to physically and mentally develop.
Available lunches vary from school to school, and may not be ideal for students. For a brown bag lunch, parents should focus on making dishes that contain protein, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Hummus and vegetables are an excellent option because it is packed with nutrients and protein. While kids enjoy the taste of these foods, they can also have fun dipping carrots, tomatoes and celery into the hummus. Other lunch ideas include:
Whole grain or sprouted wheat tortillas filled with beans, brown rice, chicken and vegetables
Hard-boiled eggs, grapes, cheese, carrots and apples for a finger-food lunch
Chili or bean soup with whole grain crackers or bread
If your child suffers from allergies, try to avoid dairy, which can increase inflammation.
When packing school lunches, try to switch out sugary drinks for alternatives like milk or water. High-fiber and protein-rich foods are ideal for students because they help the child feel fuller for longer, and maintain alertness and steady energy. Does your child have a hearty appetite? Try to add in foods like raisins, applesauce, yogurt, cottage cheese, peanut butter and snap peas to round out the meal. With nutritious snacks and lunches, students can enjoy a heightened level of health and an improved mental focus.