Making Healthier School Lunches For Your Kids

By Sonia Gulati. May 7th 2016


Providing your children with a nutritious diet will not only promote their growth and development but also prevent obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that children two years of age and older have a diet that is primarily comprised of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat dairy products, beans, fish, and lean meat. Additionally, it is suggested that children should limit their consumption of foods that are high in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sugar and salt. By teaching your children healthy food habits, specifically which foods to choose and which to avoid, will put them on the road to lifelong good health. The following is a list of foods that children should avoid consuming on a daily basis.

Foods High in Saturated and Trans fat

Not all fats are created equally as bad. In fact, children older than the age of two should obtain 30 percent of their daily calories from fat-a majority of which should be unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fat plays a myriad of essential roles in the body including aiding in the absorption of vitamins, serving as precursors for hormones, and insulating the nervous system tissue in the body. However, consuming an excess of saturated and trans fat can cause an increase in blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are most commonly found in such foods as:

  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Cream cheese and butter
  • Palm and coconut oil (often used in commercial baked goods)

Trans fats are predominantly found when vegetable oils are hydrogenated to preserve an item's freshness for a prolonged period of time. Trans fats are most commonly found in foods like:

  • Margarine
  • Packaged foods (cake mixes)
  • Packaged baked goods (cake, cookies and doughnuts)
  • Frozen foods
  • Soups (specifically ramen noodles and soup cups)

Furthermore, you should avoid any items that list partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil on the ingredient list because these also contain trans fats.

Foods High in Simple Carbohydrates (simple sugars)

Approximately fifty percent of calories consumed by children aged two or older should come from complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be classified into two categories:

  • Complex carbohydrates are comprised of foods like vegetables, whole grains and legumes. These carbohydrates are broken down slowly in the body, allowing for a gradual increase in blood sugar.
  • Simple carbohydrates (simple sugars) comprised of foods rich in fructose, glucose and lactose. Simple carbohydrates can cause a spike in blood sugar, which may increase a child's risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, consuming excess simple carbohydrates can result in tooth decay.

Simple carbohydrates are essentially sugars that are found in many refined and processed foods as well as foods made with white flour. These foods include:

  • Sodas
  • Fruit juices
  • Table and corn syrup
  • Products made with white flour (white bread, white pasta, baked goods, and many cereals)
  • Candy and chocolate
  • Ice cream

Sweetened drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the daily diets of U.S. children. A 12-ounce (355-milliliter) serving of a carbonated, sweetened soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons (49 milliliters) of sugar and 150 calories. Furthermore, consuming one 12-ounce (355-milliliter) sweetened soft drink per day increases a child's risk of obesity.

Foods High in Salt

Studies have shown that salt intake has been linked to childhood obesity as kids with high-salt diets have been reported to drink a lot of high-sugar, high-calorie drinks. Furthermore, children with low-salt diets may avoid high blood pressure as adults. The American Heart Association's dietary guidelines for children and adolescents recommend children up to three years of age consume less than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily. Similarly, it recommends children 4-to-8 years of age consume less than 1,900 mg of sodium daily, children 9-to-13 years of age consume less than 2,200 mg and children 14-to-18 consume less than 2,300 mg. Parents must be vigilant about reading nutrition labels as salt can be found in a vast array of foods, some of which may be unexpected. For example, there is more sodium in a bowl of Corn Flakes (300 mg) than a serving of potato chips (200 mg). Additionally, some of the Oscar Meyer Lunchables can have up to 1440 mg of sodium per serving. Other foods high in sodium include:

  • Spaghetti sauce (Ready to serve)
  • A slice of pizza
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Pretzels or potato chips
  • Baked beans with franks

Fast foods

Most fast foods are high in fat and calories and are void of nutrients. One study found that children and adolescents who ate fast food consumed more total and saturated fat, more total carbohydrate and added sugars, less dietary fibers and more calories. According to Shanty A. Bowman, PhD, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fast food consumption can cause an annual weight gain of six pounds. Since fast foods offer minimal nutrition and can be harmful to your child's health, their consumption on a daily basis should be avoided.


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