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Easy Ideas for Packing a Healthy Lunch for Your Child

I wrote a similar post to this last year around this time on school lunchbox meal ideas, but as a mom and dietitian, I know I am always looking for fresh ideas for my family’s meals. When putting together lunch for school, it is helpful to think of the Healthy Plate Model to make sure all bases are covered:  whole grains, protein, fruits, and veggies.

Here are some ideas in each food category to try to branch out beyond the sandwich-in-a-baggie lunch:

  • Whole grains:  Whole grain bread, whole grain crackers, brown rice cakes, whole grain tortillas, granola, multigrain chips
  • Protein:  Sunflower seed butter, nuts (if allowed at school), hummus, yogurt, tuna or chicken salad, cheese cubes or string cheese, nitrate and nitrite-free lunchmeat, edamame
  • Fruits:  Any fresh and seasonal fruits, dried fruits or fruit leathers, applesauce
  • Vegetables:  Sliced bell peppers in a variety of colors, carrot or celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, snap peas, broccoli or cauliflower pieces

Some parents might be thinking, if I pack XYZ, it’s just going to come home untouched every day, so what’s the point? Just like your kids are constantly growing and maturing, their palate and attitudes toward food are developing over time too. You never know when your child is going to give those cherry tomatoes a try, but he can’t try them unless you offer them consistently. Kids work up quite an appetite during the school day, and they are positively influenced by seeing their peers eat a variety of foods. So give your kids the chance to eat healthy, and you might be surprised!

Click here for more healthy twists on your children’s favorite foods!  For more information on our childhood nutrition programs, click here.

Food Choices for a 1 Year Old | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, a pediatric registered dietitian provides food suggestions for a 1 year old.

In this video you will learn:

  • What model is used to determine food choices for a 1 year old
  • What food is best for a 1 year old to consume at different periods of the day
  • How many meals and snacks should a 1 year old consume in a day

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide
audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and
innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now, your host, here’s
Robyn.

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host, Robyn
Ackerman. I’m standing here today with a Pediatric Registered Dietician,
Stephanie Wells. Stephanie, can you tell our viewers what are some food
choices that are preferable for a one-year-old?

Stephanie: Sure. When you’re making meals for a one-year-old, you want the
plate to reflect what’s called the Healthy Plate Model. So the plate should
be divided in half, where half of the plate has grains and protein, and the
other half has fruits and vegetables.

In terms of the grains, about half of the grains should be whole grains.
And in terms of the protein, it could be from a variety of sources, such as
meat, beans, eggs, tofu, and even cottage cheese and yogurt are good
sources of protein. The fruits and vegetables could be a variety of fresh,
frozen, dried, or cooked. One-year-olds should eat three meals and about
two snacks per day. They should drink whole milk with their meals and water
in between, and limit juice to zero to four ounces per day.

In terms of an example of a one day meal plan for a one-year-old, you could
offer at breakfast scrambled eggs, oatmeal or cereal and blueberries. A mid-
morning snack could be something just simple like crackers or pretzels. At
lunch you could offer grilled cheese, green beans, and cut up peaches. For
the mid-afternoon snack, you could do something like a rice cake or if they
like edamame, they could try that. Just watch out because it could be a
choking hazard. At dinner time you could offer something like spaghetti and
meatballs, and cooked carrots and apple sauce.

Robyn: All right. Well, thank you so much for even providing that menu as
well. Thank you to our viewers, and remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind
to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to
our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at
learnmore.me. That’s learnmore.me.

Breakfast for a Better Kid and Day!

Breakfast often gets skipped in the haste of the typical morning. Mom and dad are getting themselves ready, getting the kids ready, and tying up loose ends around the house. Many people report not having an appetite in the morning. Often, this is caused by over-eating in the later part of the day. family breakfastKids will model their parents, so think about what example you may be setting for your kids. In any case, the fact is, this morning a lot of kids woke up late and got breakfast at a fast food drive thru or ate nothing at all.

Studies show that kids who eat breakfast do better on tests in school. Nourishment in the morning provides brain fuel needed for concentration and energy. Even behavior and general attitude is better. Have you been around a hungry, tired kid lately? Not so fun and probably not the kid who’s skipping to the head of the class, so to speak.

Not only do kids who eat breakfast do better in school, but kids who eat breakfast tend to have healthier BMIs. It’s hard to say exactly why this is, but likely it has at least something to do with kids having less energy during the day to be active, and then over-eating later in the day. Eating in a balanced way throughout the day will prevent over-eating later, and leave room for a good appetite in the morning.

Here are some tips for a breakfast for a better kid:

  1. Change your morning so that breakfast is a requirement. Would you let your kids go to school in their pajamas? Just like getting dressed is a morning requirement, eating breakfast should be too. Carve that time into the morning, for yourself and your kids. Remember you are the most important role model in shaping their eating habits.
  2. Make breakfast count. Breakfast is just as important as lunch or dinner in terms of creating a complete, healthy meal. Strive for the healthy plate model at breakfast, which is to include whole grains, a protein source, and plenty of fruits and veggies. Vegetables are not typically the stars of the breakfast show, but try things like homemade hash browns or omelets with a variety of veggies. Potato pancakes are usually a hit if you have time to make them.
  3. Something is better than nothing. I would really recommend avoiding the fast food drive thru breakfast. Usually this isn’t going to be the healthiest food, but also, eating on the run results in poor digestion and tummy aches.If on occasion, you are late and have to do breakfast in the car, try a trail mix with dried fruit, nuts, and cereal. Another option would be a Clif ™ bar or Larabar ™ with a string cheese.
  4. Use the weekend to make breakfast a special meal for your family. The weekend breakfast can be such a fun family (and friends) tradition. Eating breakfast at home gives kids another chance to have a family meal at the table, which builds good habits, communication skills, and relationships. Breakfast foods tend to be popular with kids, and can be made with a healthy spin.

Examples of a Better Breakfast for Children:

  • Multigrain pancakes with blueberries and scrambled eggs. Try a maple-agave syrup blend (it’s less expensive than 100% maple syrup but still contains whole ingredients instead of high fructose corn syrup). Another healthy topping is homemade strawberry-rhubarb syrup which you can make by simmering chopped rhubarb and strawberries with a few tablespoons of water.
  • Granola, fruit, and yogurt parfait. Make it seasonal by stirring in pumpkin spice granola or farmers market fruit. Make it a winner by setting bowls of yogurt at the kids’ places at the table, and allow them to pick from an array of mix-ins on the table that they can spoon in themselves.
  • Organic bacon or sausage, whole grain English muffin spread with fruit preserves.
  • Whole grain toast, egg scramble or omelet with any of the following: chopped peppers, spinach, broccoli, peas, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes virtually any vegetable, black beans, cheese.
  • Oatmeal, berries, and nut butter mixed in. Top with homemade coconut whipped cream, which can be made by whipping canned coconut milk with beaters on high until foaming and thick.

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School Lunchbox Meal Ideas

It’s here- the new school year! Bringing lunch from home is great if it is feasible for your family. It can be tricky coming up with school lunchbox ideas that include variety, foods your kids will eat, and foods that will stay good until lunchtime. I recommend getting a lunchbox that can Child with lunchboxaccommodate a refrigerated pack to keep certain foods cold.

Here are 5 ideas, one for each day of the week, that are dietitian approved:

Sandwich Lunchbox

You can’t go wrong with the tried and true staple.

  • Whole grain or 100% whole w­­­heat bread, nitrate- and nitrite-free lunchmeat, real cheese (steer clear of the heavily processed ones that come individually plastic-wrapped), lettuce, tomato, mustard.
  • 2 mini oranges
  • Whole wheat pretzels

Vegetarian Tortilla Wrap Lunchbox

Although it’s vegetarian, it’s not lacking in protein.

  • Use your kid’s favorite tortilla wrap (spinach, whole wheat, etc), and fill it with hummus or pureed black beans or lentils, sliced red and green peppers, and shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese.
  • To make a bean puree:  Saute ½ of a white or yellow onion in olive oil in a small skillet. Add pre-cooked lentils, beans, or canned beans and season with salt, pepper, and cumin. Cool after cooking, and stir in chopped cilantro and a little of your favorite salsa. Puree or fork mash the mixture.
  • Tortilla chips
  • Grapes

Lettuce Wrap Lunchbox

Kids like assembling their own foods, and although this might seem outside of the norm in terms of “kid food”, they are delicious.

  • 3 pieces of whole romaine lettuce leaves (approx 6” long ), 3 strips of baked, grilled, or otherwise cooked chicken or steak, thinly sliced carrots, and a mini Tupperware container of Asian salad dressing (be aware that many Asian dressings contain peanuts. If your school is 100% peanut-free, try French or Catalina dressing instead).
  • Clif Z bar or Larabar
  • Dried cranberries
  • Milk

Bagel, Nut Butter, and Jelly Lunchbox

 Again, you can’t go wrong with this kid favorite.

  • Use a whole grain bagel or a whole wheat English muffin. If your school is peanut-free, instead of peanut butter, try sunflower seed butter, almond butter or cashew butter. Add your kid’s favorite jelly (I recommend organic preserves that have less sugar- check at the farmers market too), and even a little drizzle of honey.
  • Carrot sticks
  • Whole grain Goldfish crackers
  • Milk

Cracker and Cheese Assortment

With the right sides, this does make a good meal.

  • Whole grain woven wheat crackers (i.e. Triscuits)
  • Brown rice cake or rice crackers
  • Whole grain round crackers
  • Two types of cheeses, sliced into 2”x2” squares, such as cheddar, swiss, muenster, or whatever you have in the house.
  • Shelled edamame
  • Banana

Each of the above meals includes (at minimum) a source of protein, a whole grain, a fruit, a vegetable, and a dairy serving. Give your child’s lunch experience a special touch by including a little note from you or dad, or put a sticker on one of the baggies or containers. And remember, fueling your child’s body and brain with healthy foods before and during school promotes better learning and school performance.

*Tip to encourage your child to eat the above lunchbox meals:  Share these meal ideas with your child’s friends’ parents. Kids tend to eat better in social settings where they see other kids eating and trying different things.

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Is My Child Getting Enough Protein?

Parents often tell me they are concerned that their infant, toddler, or child isn’t getting enough protein. Protein is critical for human growth, particularly during times of rapid growth- infancy and puberty. If your child is seemingly not eating enough protein, you may be concerned.

The good news is that kids can meet their daily protein needs more easily than you might think!

Infant Protein Needs:

Infants need more protein per kilogram of body weight than any other stage of life. However, breastmilk and infant formulas provide adequate protein, given that your child is taking enough volume. You will know that they are taking enough volume if they are growing within normal limits on the growth chart at pediatrician visits. Children eating protein foodsPreemies who need “catch-up growth” or infants who have special health care needs have especially high protein needs, and should be managed by a pediatric dietitian as well as their doctor.

When solids are introduced, offer a variety of pureed meats and/or beans at 8-9 months. You can make your own baby food by simmering meat in a crock pot (with enough water to cover it) for 8-12 hours or until very tender. Then once the meat has cooled, blend it in a food processor, adding liquid such as breastmilk, formula, or water as needed to make a smoother consistency. Infants over 8-9 months can also pick up and eat soft beans such as black beans. Make sure they are soft enough to mash easily in their mouth and watch closely for choking. You can mash them a little with a fork before putting them on their tray to make them easier to eat.

Toddler Protein Needs: 

Toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 years need 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, if your child weighs 30 lbs, or about 14 kg, he or she needs about 16 grams of protein every day. Here is how your child can achieve this:

8 ounces, or 1 cup, of 2% milk has 8 grams of protein.
1 egg, prepared any way, has 7 grams of protein.

Your toddler practically met the entire day’s protein requirements in breakfast alone!

Adolescence Protein Needs:

During adolescence, kids need 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. So for example, a child who weighs 100 lbs needs about 45 grams of protein. Adolescents typically have a good appetite, so eating enough protein is usually not a problem. If your teen is skipping meals, restricting food, or losing weight suddenly, you should talk to your pediatrician or registered dietitian to make sure they get the nutrition they need.

Alternatives to meat that provide protein*

Cottage cheese – ¼ cup has 7 grams protein
Yogurt – ½ cup has about 5.5 grams protein
100% whole wheat bread – 1 slice has 5 grams protein
100% whole wheat pasta – ½ cup has about 4 grams protein
Quinoa – ½ cup has about 4 grams protein
Black beans – ¼ cup has 4 grams protein
Peanut butter – 1 tablespoon has 4 grams protein
Sunflower seed butter – 1 tablespoon has about 3 grams protein
Hummus – 1 tablespoon has about 1 gram of protein

*protein amounts may vary by brand

If you or your pediatrician have concerns about your child’s nutrition intake or growth, contact a pediatric registered dietitian for a nutrition assessment and recommendations. The dietitian can get your child back on track and help alleviate any stress you have as a parent regarding your child’s nutrition.

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