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Karen Ridings

School lunch: A meal for growth and learning

Children will soon be back to school. It is important that children start the day with a healthy breakfast and receive a healthy lunch mid-day. A healthy breakfast and lunch not only will provide important nutrients for growth, but will help your child perform better in school.

The National School Lunch program is available through public and nonprofit private schools. The goal of the program is to provide affordable, nutritionally balanced meals to children. The menus are based on the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines recommend that no more than 30 percent of calories come from fat and provide one-third of the Recommended Daily Allowances for protein, Vitiamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories. Even though the National School Lunch Program is sponsored by the federal government, in Virginia, it is administered by the Virginia Department of Education.

If your child prefers to pack his/her lunch, it is important to pack a nutritionally balanced meal. When packing your child's lunch, use the MyPyramid as a guide. Here is a check list to guide and rate the lunch that you are packing for your child:

Grain Group: Have you included some type of whole grain such as whole wheat bread? Whole grains are high in fiber, help with proper elimination, and provide important B-Vitamins. Oatmeal bars and popcorn are other examples of whole grains.

Dairy Group: It is important to provide your child with sources of calcium for proper bone development. Milk is an excellent beverage with lots of calcium. Yogurt and low fat cheeses are also a good source. If your child cannot drink milk, consider fortified soymilk or orange juice.

Meat/Bean Group:
This group provides protein for growth. Consider low fat items such as turkey, tuna, and chicken. Bean salads and peanut butter are other alternatives.

Vegetable Group - Vegetable sticks are fun and easy to prepare

Fruit Group - Serve fruit for dessert

* It is recommended to avoid packing salty snack type products such as chips and desserts high in sugar and trans-fats. Children typically will eat these foods first, leaving little room for the more nutritious part of the lunch.

Remember children need "healthy" foods for growth and to perform their best at school. Give them the best advantage at school this year by helping them develop "healthy" eating habits.

Source: USDA



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