Four Essential Nutrients for a Healthier Lunch Box

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 4:06 PM

lunch boxHot dogs, pizza, tater tots, chicken nuggets, ketchup and bagged chips – these high-fat, high-sodium and low-fiber foods are made available every day in some schools across the country. With over one-third of American children overweight or obese, it’s little wonder First Lady Michelle Obama has made improving standards for school lunches a focus. And improvements are happening, but packed lunches are still a great way to help your children keep calories and fat under control, as well provide the essential nutrients they need to grow and thrive. 

Kimberly Hammon, Dietitian at NorthShore, shares some healthy lunch tips for how to include essential nutrients – vitamin D, calcium, fiber and potassium – into your kid’s packed lunch:  

Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to various cancers, including colon and breast, heart disease and depression. Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium to maximize bone growth and strength. 

What to pack?

  • Most milk products have vitamin D.
  • If your child isn’t a milk drinker, pack vitamin D-fortified orange juice instead.
  • Up vitamin D intake in the morning with yogurt, oatmeal or cereals.

Calcium: Calcium is an essential nutrient that helps build strong bones, but it also can help with heart rhythm, blood clotting and muscle function.

What to pack?

  • Milk or flavored milk is a healthy addition to every meal.
  • Orange juice with added calcium is a non-dairy option.
  • Add cheese to sandwiches or include cubes or sticks. Low-fat mozzarella and Swiss have the highest amount of calcium.
  • Trail mix with raw almonds is a healthy dessert or snack. Almonds are high in protein, fiber and calcium, and promote heart health and, when consumed in moderation, can help prevent weight gain. 

Fiber: Fiber can help prevent type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. It also helps tummies feel fuller longer. 

What to pack?

  • A sandwich with whole grain bread. Whole grains not only have lots of fiber, but protein, B vitamins and antioxidants.
  • While fiber from whole grains and fruits and veggies is still the best option, cereal bars can be a complaint-free way to get a little more fiber into your child’s diet. Make sure you check labels! Some brands don’t have enough fiber to justify the added sugar.
  • Apples have lots of fiber. Tip: to keep apple slices from going brown, sprinkle with lemon juice. Other high-fiber fruits include bananas, berries and dried fruits. 
  • High in fiber and heart-healthy fat, avocados can add flavor, creaminess and nutrients to sandwiches and wraps. 

Potassium: Potassium-rich diets promote heart and muscle function, maintain fluid balance, energize and help build strong bones. 

What to pack?

  • Dried fruit, especially dried apricots, have lots of potassium, as do bananas, nectarines and oranges.
  • Try to sneak some vegetables into sandwiches or wraps, especially spinach, which is high in potassium. 

What do you pack to provide a healthy lunch for your kids?

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