It’s lunchtime at the office and you’re hungry. Your morning has been stressful, and your co-workers are pooling their money for some fried take-out from the local burger joint. You decline their invitation (even though comfort food sounds particularly comforting right now), and instead sit down with the healthy lunch you brought from home, complete with whole grains, lean proteins, raw vegetables, and lots of water. You know you have an afternoon full of meetings, phone calls, and errands, and the fiber and vitamins will carry you through your to-do list valiantly. Congratulations, you made a responsible adult decision, which will benefit your energy levels and probably your long-term health. Do you think you would have made the same decision in the lunch line in grade school?
Kids in school face complicated lunchtime decisions on a daily basis. What a child eats for lunch at school not only influences their energy levels in math class but also sets the stage for adult eating habits. Too many wrong decisions can be a recipe for a nutritional disaster.
Although school lunch has gotten a bad rap in the past for being too high in fat and too low in nutrient-rich fruits and veggies, school lunch standards have been making steady improvements over the past few years. Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, led by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, lunch is looking better than ever.
Even before the recent regulations, schools all over the country were voluntarily implementing healthy changes for years, such as incorporating local and organic produce, growing on-site vegetable gardens, and banning fast food and vending machines.
Speaking of home, that’s where nutrition really starts. Here’s what you can do to help your child choose a healthy lunch when they’re buying:
When shopping, fill your cart with all the colors of the rainbow to keep your body at it’s healthiest. Here’s a quick and easy way to know what you need by the color of your fruits and veggies:
Blues & Purples: Help to keep your memory sharp and to reduce the risk of many types of cancer (i.e. blueberries, blackberries, purple grapes, plums, raisins, and eggplant).
Greens: Protect your bones, teeth, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, as well as keeping your eyesight sharp (i.e. kiwi, honeydew, spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and lettuce). The deeper the color the better.
Whites: Lower your LDL (bad cholesterol) and reduce risk of heart disease (i.e. pears, bananas, mushrooms, cauliflower, onions, and garlic).
Reds: Help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and improve the blood flow to the heart (i.e. watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, red apples).
Yellows & Oranges: Boost your immune system and help to prevent eye diseas (i.e. oranges, grapefruit, peaches, cantaloupe, mangoes, pineapple, squash, carrots).