Pat Baird, MA, RD, FADA
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a "high-fiber" food as 5 grams of fiber (or more) per serving and a "good" source of fiber as 2.5 to 4.0 grams per serving. Teach your kids how to read food labels. It can be a fun experience for them and a great way to raise their nutrition awareness at an early age. To learn more about reading food labels check out, "Make Your Calories Count," a new interactive program from
Send your kids off to school this fall with a healthy start: Put more fiber in their lunchbox!
No one seems to get enough fiber in their diet, and that goes for kids as well. Adults average around 10 to 15 grams per day and kids get about 13 grams a day according to recent U.S. surveys.
The latest research shows fiber not only helps us digest the food we eat (and prevent constipation), it also helps to prevent diabetes, keeps our blood sugar levels stable, lowers cholesterol levels and even helps us with weight management.
Unfortunately, obesity rates have been increasing in school-aged children, and along with it higher rates of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and constipation. In fact, according to a report in 2005, in the medical journal Pediatrics, children with chronic constipation are about twice as likely to be obese as children without this problem – one cause is a diet that is low in fiber and high in calories.¹
Packing a healthier lunchbox is an easy way to improve your child’s nutrition and health. It’s also a subtle way to sneak in more fiber – with fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and nuts – and lower the fat and added sugar content of the meal. The lunchbox is also a great way to actively involve kids in making better food choices and planning menus. At the same time, they’re learning the basics of good nutrition.
Here’s a list of great tips to help you include more fiber into any lunchbox:
To boost your child’s nutrition "know-how" you might also consider taking him or her to the supermarket. While you’re there, encourage him or her to help select the latest variety of whole grain breads, rolls and wraps and check out the produce section where stores offer smaller "snack-sizes" of baby carrots and celery and sliced apples – perfect to tuck into lunchboxes. (Some even come with a dip, but check the label since some may be too high in fat or sugar).
Here’s another tip: Make a game of seeing who can be the first to spot an item on your shopping list each time you visit a new aisle in the market. At home, your child can help you mix-up a batch of homemade "trail-mix" with whole grain cereal, nuts, dried fruit and mini pretzels or mini crackers. Store it in a clear plastic container with a tight lid for easy access when packing lunchboxes (or grabbing a quick bag-full for an after school treat).
- Use whole grain breads, pita pockets, rolls or tortillas (wraps) for sandwiches
- Substitute sliced banana, pear or dried fruit, for jam, in peanut butter sandwiches
- Pack a small baggie of crunchy vegetables (baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumber / celery)
- Add a container of "fruit and vegetable" combo salad – especially one that packs well – such as carrot and raisin; Waldorf salad (chopped apple, celery, and raisins), homemade coleslaw (use pre-shredded cabbage and carrots); three bean salad or corn and brown rice. These can all be made with a small amount of low-fat mayonnaise (or half fat-free yogurt and half mayo)
- Tuck fresh spinach leaves in addition to lettuce) into sandwiches, or if you want to be more adventurous, try slipping in some slices of zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber or grated carrots
- Spread a thin layer of peanut (or other nut) butter over celery sticks, for a "side" dish
- Include fresh or dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, apricots, plums, etc.) everyday; and occasionally add a small container of low-fat yogurt – or hummus – as a "dip"
- During hot months, send in a thermos of low-fat yogurt and chunks of fresh fruit – like pineapple
- In the winter, send your child to school with a thermos full of chili, whole grain pasta or vegetable soup (toss in some extra vegetables and/or canned beans)
- For a crunchy dessert or snack, pack a plastic bag with a cup or two of air-popped popcorn, a serving of whole grain crackers or a half cup of your homemade "trail-mix"
- Get really creative and wrap leftover rice (brown rice has more fiber) in thin dried seaweed – for an Asian treat
Lunchbox Idea #1:
Chicken (or Tuna) Salad Whole-Wheat Wrap (Mix chicken/tuna with celery, chopped apples, low-fat mayonnaise)
Celery and Carrot Sticks
Lunchbox Idea #2
Chunky Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich on Whole Grain Bread
Sliced Zucchini Rounds
Orange Sections with Vanilla Yogurt
Lunchbox Idea #3
Sliced Turkey Sandwich with Lettuce and Spinach Leaves
Shredded Carrot and Raisin Salad (Tossed with low-fat yogurt)
Roasted Almonds (About 22 almonds = 1-ounce serving)
Lunchbox Idea #4
"Lunch-Kebab" with bite sized pieces of meat, cherry tomato, green bell pepper, etc.
Homemade "Trail Mix"
¹Increased prevalence of obesity in children with functional constipation evaluated in an Academic Medical Center.Dinesh S. Pashankar and Vera Loening-Baucke. Pediatrics 116.3 (Sept 2005) : p74