By Claire Toomey
THE IMPORTANCE OF a healthy school lunch cannot be emphasized enough. Students, especially young children whose bodies are reaching key stages of development, need the correct vitamins and nutrients to stay energized and focused throughout the long school day. It is very important that students are fueled properly and practice healthy eating habits from a young age. These behaviors will carry into adulthood and have a dramatic influence on the rest of their lives.
According to Lisa Testa, a holistic nutritional consultant of Healthier You, a healthy lunch consists of fruits, vegetables and a lean protein, either nut-based or meat-based, such as turkey or chicken. She also noted that it is much better to pair the meal with water rather than a sugary soda or juice. The aim is to craft a lunch that is “well-rounded and creates sustainable energy,” said Testa.
Some specific examples she provided are soup in a thermos, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – with natural peanut butter and sugar free jelly – and turkey with lettuce and tomato on whole grain bread. These lunches, rounded out with a fruit and vegetable snack such as snap peas, carrot sticks or bell peppers, are just a few of the many well-balanced choices available.
The key to providing students with lunches that are both healthy and tasty is replacing unhealthy elements with better alternatives that children will still enjoy. Overly sugary, fatty and processed foods lead to an unhealthy rise and fall in blood sugar and usually can be substituted for a more nutritious option. Treats do not need to be avoided completely; rather, they should be viewed as a special occurrence instead of an everyday staple.
Testa also encouraged the use of organic fruits and vegetables to stay away from as many harmful pesticides as possible. This can be expensive, however, so it is important to prioritize what to buy organically. For example, a banana’s thick skin helps protects the fruit from dangerous chemicals while buying fruits such as grapes and berries organically should be more carefully considered. Prices vary at different markets as well, so it may be more beneficial to buy produce at some stores than others.
Providing healthy options for students is vital to the success and well-being of children. “It completely changes your demeanor,” said Testa regarding the importance of good nutrition. “Your attentiveness, your energy and your mood all depend on the quality of what you eat.”
Easy swaps, such as whole grain bread instead of white or fruit instead of candy, can make a big difference. Healthy lifestyles can begin at any age, so why not start as early as possible?
“We all know that it is important to give your school-aged children healthy lunches because their growing bodies require the nutrients, but developing healthy eating habits is just as important,” said Tori Sickles, marketing manager of Sickles Market. Markets like Sickles often offer boxed lunches “to help provide quick, healthy alternatives when Moms and Dads are too busy to make their own.”
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