8 Simple Steps to Fill the Nutritional Void of School Lunches

Remember when you went to middle school, and the choices you encountered in the hot lunch line? I still can clearly recall the tater tots and fish sticks as well as a gallon jar of oily peanut butter the lunch ladies would serve. Sure, there might have been an apple as well, but the point is when kids are faced with unhealthy options they will gravitate towards them.

The school lunch has received attention recently for nutritional void- truth is the hot lunches we dealt with when we were kids are confronting our kids now. Here are 8 simple steps to fill the nutritional void from school lunches as the back to school season approaches.

Step 1: Take time to pack your kids lunch with them, either the night before or the morning of school.

Parents directly influence meal choices their kids make; packing a lunch at home is the best way to prevent poor choices. Understandably, preparing a lunch is inconvenient in what can be a chaotic time of day; sending money in place of a lunchbox is much more conducive. But, first and foremost this is more than just lunch.  We are “teaching and educating” kids on how much and what to eat.

Step 2: Completely remove soda and juice boxes

Sodas are responsible for the most extra calories in today’s diets (12 ounces has about 150 calories). If it is carbonation kids crave, introduce flavored sparkling waters that are infused with natural flavors. Try a brand that doesn’t add artificial sugars, like Hint.  Even the tradition milk, or chocolate milk, is a healthier option, packing vitamins and protein.

Step 3: Replace the mayonnaise with mustard

Whether you are a Miracle Whip or Best Foods advocate, hold the mayo. Trade the high fat and cholesterol condiment for the flavorful yellow alternative. French’s classic mustard boasts zero fat and zero cholesterol, and a little mustard goes a long way on sandwiches.

Step 4: Pack lean protein lunch meats

Sure, hotdogs and bologna are a favorite of kids, and adults, but the high sodium and high fat meats pack little to no protein. Protein is an important component in a child’s growing body, from rebuilding muscles to supplying the necessary antibodies to fight off diseases. Think grilled chicken breast, lean turkey or tuna salad as a lunch alternative.

Step 5: Fruit with yogurt is a sweet alternative to store bought dessert

Forget the three C’s: cookies, cake, and candy, it is just as easy to pack an apple or banana. Get creative with a homemade parfait by adding yogurt and granola to the mix.

Step 6: Replace potato chips with something healthy and crunchy

With high sodium, fat and calories, it is difficult to see any redeeming quality to serving chips on a regular basis. Give vegetables a chance to replace the fun and crunchy aspect of chips. Fill celery sticks with almond butter (a great alternative to peanut butter), or pack snap peas and carrots with a side of hummus.

Step 7: Forget the white bread and go for whole wheat bread and pita

White bread has been under scrutiny for years, slowly being replaced by whole wheat options. Whole wheat grains are linked to lower risk of health problems, like diabetes.  100% whole wheat bread or whole wheat pitas are great for sandwiches and provide the necessary grains.

Step 8: Put something fun in your kid’s lunch everyday

After all these steps, it may seem like your child may not enjoy their lunch as much as before, but that is why this step is important. A little something special, like a Jello cup or fruit roll up can make a lunch something to look forward to…and hopefully not trade with other kids.

DOES POSTING CALORIE CONTENT IN RESTAURANTS HELP US EAT HEALTHIER?

As communities and governments struggle with the obesity epidemic in search for solutions and prevention strategies, many ideas have emerged.  One of these is to raise consciousness through the posting of the calorie content and additional nutritional features of the foods that are being served.  The most widespread use of this experiment and increased nutritional mindfulness is occurring in New York.  Their heightened awareness of the calorie content of restaurant foods is provided with prominent postings.

But does it affect our eating behavior?  The early answer appears to be no, unfortunately.  In a study comparing youth in New York against a control group in neighboring New Jersey where conditions appear to be about the same, but the calorie content is not posted, there appears to be no significant difference in eating behavior.  Certainly most of us battling the obesity problem would like to find that posting the fact that a particular burger has an astronomical number of calories in it would lead kids and their parents to reduce consumption of the high calorie items and thus reduce the excess weight gain that is occurring.  Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.  While posting calorie content may be helpful and may raise some awareness, it is far from clear that people possess enough knowledge about what is a normal calorie intake or have clear connections from calorie intake to weight gain and poor health to really make a change in behavior happen.

My own view is that the posting of calorie content should not be abandoned just because we so far cannot demonstrate that it leads to behavior change.  Overall, driving increased consumer awareness of the calorie content of every day foods and snacks appears to be a valuable and necessary component of an obesity prevention strategy.  Additional campaigns to drive home the connection between excess calorie intake and obesity must also be undertaken.  Furthermore, campaigns to educate children and their parents about normal calorie intake and the negative consequences of excess calorie intake need to be ramped up massively if we are going to make a dent in the number one health problem in the country and one that appears to be largely preventable in young people if a great enough effort it exerted to providing the tools necessary for success.

We are clearly at the very beginning of what will need to be a monumental effort to prevent childhood obesity from becoming a healthcare tsunami.  Further research to help pinpoint what strategies are more successful and what strategies do lead to behavior change will be invaluable as the effort rolls forward.

Why eat breakfast?

Why eat breakfast?

Lets face it, when the alarm goes off most of us hit the snooze button.  “Just a few more minutes, I’ll skip breakfast today.”   What’s the harm in skipping breakfast? As it turns out, more than you think!  See, people skip breakfast thinking they’re cutting calories, but by lunch, that person is often famished.  We see this all the time and it’s one of the single biggest ways to set up oneself for failure and weight gain!  Research indicates that breakfast skippers replace calories during the day with mindless nibbling, often associated with bingeing at lunch and dinner.

Numerous studies have shown that the simple act of eating breakfast, every day, is one of the single biggest contributors to losing weight and keeping it off. Eating breakfast is a daily habit that has to be created for both successful weight loss and ongoing weight maintenance.  It’s important to note that all breakfast is not created equally.

Protein at breakfast is the single best way to start the day!

A research study written in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition performed a study that fed two groups of people protein in one case (eggs), and carbohydrates in the other (a bagel).  They then looked at the caloric consumption over the next 24 hours.  The results were pretty shocking!  The egg eaters felt more satiety (sense of fullness) over the course of the day and, more importantly, they ate a staggering 445 less calories.[1]  This equates to the possibility of losing nearly 45 pounds over the course of a year!

Can we all cook some eggs every morning?  Probably.  But the one thing that we’ve learned over the course of helping 1000’s of patients lose weight and keep it off is building a breakfast habit is one thing, but it has to be super easy and expeditious to prepare or it’s really easy to fall of the wagon. 

When you skip breakfast, you are actually fasting for 15 or more hours.  This is literally a death blow to the metabolism and is really one of the single easiest ways to tell the body to create more fat.  To lose weight, we have to create a deficit between what we eat and what we burn. 

Remember, eating breakfast is a habit.  It has to be created.  Conversely, not eating breakfast will make it nearly impossible to lose weight or to maintain a weight moving forward.  So, get yourself and your family started today with a new habit!


[1] Short-Term Effect of Eggs on Satiety in Overweight and Obese Subjects, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 24, No. 6, 510-515, 2005.

How to Exercise in the Heat

by: Emily Main, Rodale.com

Heat has to factor into your summer exercise plans if you expect to do any shaping up outdoors. Heat has a big impact on you while you exercise, and it’s important to listen and respond to your body’s cues before you wind up with a case of heat stroke.

The details: Because your body is mostly water, dehydration impacts every aspect of your physiology, writes Jason Karp, PhD, exercise physiologist and running coach, in the most recent issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal. And when you’re working out on a really hot day, the amount of water you lose can be double the amount you’d lose on a normal day. Not only does that water loss increase your body’s internal temperature, which puts you at risk for getting overheated, it also reduces the amount of energy that’s fed to your cells, which means your muscles aren’t getting the energy they need. Adding to the stress on your body, humid air doesn’t allow for sweat to evaporate from your skin and cool you off, so your internal core temperature rises even higher, putting you at risk for heat stroke. Finally, all that sweating speeds up your heart rate, causing it to rise three to five beats per minute for every 1 percent of water loss you experience. Essentially, you feel like you’re working out harder than you really are.

What it means: Don’t stop exercising outside this summer just because it’s hotter than normal. An outdoor run, bike ride, or romp in a pool or lake can be more convenient and less expensive than hitting the gym. And being in nature is a natural mood elevator, even if it is 100 degrees and getting hotter by the minute. What’s key, says Karp, is staying hydrated and being smart about your workouts.

Click here for the full article.

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