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Brown-Bagging It — Prep Your Kids for Success With a Nutrition-Packed Back-to-School Lunch

If you’re like many parents, you prefer to pack your own kids’ lunch, as opposed to trusting the school to give them the filling, fresh, wholesome midday meal they should have. If you think that sounds counterintuitive, given that schools have to be compliant with USDA guidelines, think again: Although the lunches they serve have all the “required” components of the National School Lunch Program, school lunches are often far from filling and, what’s worse, not as good for your children’s health as lunch planners would like you to think.

You need look no further than hilarious — yet disturbing — photos and videos posted across social media every fall by students themselves, showing the world what schools think is a “good” lunch. But if you go beyond what the kids think, it’s important to know that kids who eat school lunches have a 29 percent higher risk of obesity than those who brown bag it. If you wonder why, it’s because, despite mouth-watering menus, the actual foods are often nothing but processed products, while fruits and vegetables are totally missing.

When you see that skim chocolate milk is the No. 1 school lunch beverage (the rationale is from the ill-conceived plan to restrict your child’s fats) you’re automatically going to think it’s time to pack. But what do you put in there?

Of course, you’re going to avoid foods your child is allergic to. Beyond that, think colors and the nutrition will follow. If you send fresh fruits and vegetables, you don’t have to worry about refrigeration or heating something up. Whatever you pack, don’t send prepackaged ANYTHING, as these are the same processed foods the school lunch program provides.

Make sure your child gets ample healthy fats, such as a handful of raw nuts or a sliced avocado. My list of healthy appetizers and snacks are a good resource of foods you can make ahead of time to pack in your child’s lunch. From low carb bacon and cheese muffins to sprout and tomato stuffed avocados, there are countless ideas for sending your child to school with a healthy, wholesome, filling meal.

Oranges, apples, blueberries, strawberries, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower florets are all fruits and veggies that are good for brown bagging — plus they provide fiber that fills up hungry tummies. (Note: Broccoli is a great brain food too!) And, if you’re up to it and your child has a lunch box to carry it, you can even make their favorite fresh veggie salad and send that, too.

Since cheese is a nutritional powerhouse that provides calcium and vitamins D and K, pack that, too. For the protein, sliced boiled eggs can fill in. Since sandwiches are one of the go-to items in many people’s lunch menus, the good news is that there is a way to incorporate whole wheat grains into your lunch, if you concentrate first on optimizing fats for fuel.

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