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Lunch With A Healthy Punch

Many parents believe a lunch from home is always better than one served at school. But the typical lunchbox is filled with unhealthy choices. The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall has advice on how to pack a lunch with nutritional punch.

It's hard for a parent to send a child off to school without knowing what choices they're going to make in a cafeteria line. By packing a lunch, they have some say as to what their kids are putting into their mouths. Plus, we hear such horror stories about the nutritional value of school lunches that parents assume that whatever their put in their lunch box has got to be better than what's being served at school.

But many parents are busy, and it takes a lot of discipline and time to make your child's lunch every day. Plus, parents want to send kids off to school with foods that they're likely to eat, so they naturally turn to things that are prepackaged and easy to throw into a brown bag or lunchbox. The problem is, many of these foods are processed and full of saturated fat, salt, and sugar.

  • Packaged lunch meats are highly processed and can be a hidden source of saturated fat and salt. A better option is to use meats that you have prepared yourself or that you've bought from a local deli, like roast chicken, turkey, or beef or — tuna packed in water (not albacore, which is higher in mercury).
  • Kids may prefer white bread, but it has little nutritional value. Instead, use a multi-grain or whole-grain bread. They'll get used to it. And use light mayo or ketchup or mustard to cut down on the fat calories.
  • Sneak in some veggies. Yes, you can add spinach, tomatoes, bell pepper or shredded carrots to a sandwich to give it some texture and some added nutrients.
  • There's no need to ban chips and cookies — but there is no need to make them part of every lunch. Try including some vegetables cut into bite-size pieces, like carrots, celery, sugar snap peas and broccoli. These are crunchy and nutritious. You can give your kids a yogurt-based dip or low-fat dressing to dip them in.
  • Parents are often tricked into thinking that things marketed as fruit snacks are as healthy as fruit. But whole fruit is much better than say fruit strips or fruit cups which can have a lot of added sugar. So give them an apple, orange or pear instead — or make your own fruit salad. You can choose mangoes, kiwi, or star fruits to spice things up a bit. Also, some companies are coming out with freeze-dried fruit snacks that are 100 percent fruit.
  • Fruit juice provides some vitamins, but it's also full of sugar — and in this age of childhood obesity, fruit juice is seen as a potential source of empty calories without a lot of nutritional value. So instead of juice boxes, give children who are over 2 years old low-fat or non-fat milk with lunch. If not milk, then just give them water.
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