Pack The Perfect School Lunch

Homework? Check. Backpack? Check. A nutritious, delicious, energy-packed, obesity-fighting lunch? Whoops.

Researchers at the University of Texas recently found that more than half of parents scored an F when packing a lunch by failing to include foods loaded with enough energy, vitamins, calcium, iron and zinc. Lunches served at school didn't fare any better, a separate study found.

Take control. Follow this advice and your kid will be happy, healthy and the envy of the lunch table.

Click here for The Best and Worst Foods for Kids.

Dependable Drink. Check the label. Most kids' drinks contain almost as much sugar per ounce as soft drinks, which could add three to five pounds to your child's weight by next June. Pick drinks that have zero or few calories (water, diet drinks); added nutrition (milk, 100 percent juice); or both (tea). Here are the best choices, in descending order:

  • Water
  • Lightly sweetened iced tea, such as Honest Tea
  • Low-fat milk
  • 100 percent juice drinks
  • Low-calorie kids' drinks, such as Minute Maid Fruit Falls and Tropicana Fruit Squeeze

Sturdy Anchor. Forgo white bread in favor of whole-grain. It'll give your kid more energy and a sharper mind for the rest of the day. Load up on protein, fiber and healthy fats-they'll help keep your kid satisfied, stoke metabolism, and provide important nutrients. Go with any of these:

  • Turkey or roast beef and Swiss on wheat
  • Sliced ham, cheese and Triscuits
  • PB&J (on whole wheat with a pure-fruit jelly like Smucker's Simply Fruit)
  • Thermos of hot soup
  • Grilled chicken breast
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Tuna or cubed chicken tossed with light mayo, mustard, celery and carrot

Sneak some fruit into your child's sandwich for added flavor and nutrition. "A sweet crunch will make your tuna salad sandwich taste better. If you don't have an apple, try a chopped pear," says Sandra Nissenberg, M. S., R. D., author of The Everything Kids' Cookbook.

The 15 saltiest foods on the kids' menu.

Mix one 12-ounce can of canned tuna, drained, with one small apple, diced, and a tablespoon mayo. Stuff the mixture into a whole-wheat pita pocket cut in half.

Sides with Substance. Rethink that bag of chips. Only one in four children consume the recommended five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Each chip eaten is a blown chance at a healthy option. Like these:

  • Carrot sticks
  • Celery sticks
  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • Fruit salad
  • Banana, pear, peach, or any whole fruit
  • Olives
  • Almonds and raisins
  • Triscuits
  • Pretzel sticks or Goldfish crackers
  • Baked Lay's

Low-Impact Treat. You've gotta give your kids something they can brag about to their friends, right? But first, a couple of rules: No trans fats. Keep sugar to fewer than 12 grams per snack. No more than 100 calories. These options even eke out a few added nutrients:

  • Fruit leather (roll-ups)
  • Squeezable yogurt
  • Low-fat, low-sugar chocolate pudding
  • Sugar-free Jell-O
  • Rice Krispies Treats
  • A square of chocolate

Learn more here about the Men's Health FitSchools Iniative-fighting childhood obesity and diabetes one school at a time.

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