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Nutrition Tip Tuesday: How to Build a Better Balanced Lunch Box

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Introducing my Nutrition Tip Tuesday where I will share the latest and greatest nutrition information with you here every Tuesday! This week's topic is the "Spark Notes" version of my Nutrition Workshop last month on How to Build a Better Balanced Lunch Box for you and your children!

Hope you enjoy this weekly Nutrition Tip series and I would love to hear from you all about what other topics you would like me to cover! (Post questions in comments section, please)!

This week's Nutrition Tip: How to Build a Better Balanced Lunch Box

 Now that's a beautiful balanced lunch box!

Now that's a beautiful balanced lunch box!

We’ve all heard it since we were children – “eat your fruits and vegetables”… “you can’t have dessert until you eat all of your broccoli”…. “if you eat your spinach you’ll be big and strong like Popeye  the Sailor Man.” Even the Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage us to eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day… But what’s the big deal with fruits and vegetables? And why did our parents try to force us to eat things like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and figs?!

While it may have seemed cruel back then, our parents were doing us a HUGE favor by trying to make us eat fruits and vegetables as children, and I am here to encourage you all to do the same for your children (and for yourselves)! Why!? Because those colorful fruits and vegetables are powerhouses for essential nutrients and phytochemicals that provide significant health benefits, like fighting infections and enhancing our immune systems; reducing inflammation and preventing various forms of cancer and other chronic diseases; improving digestion and metabolism and providing us with the energy we need to make it through the day!

That’s right! All these health benefits can be achieved by simply eating your 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day! It’s hard to believe that these tiny little particles in produce can produce so many health benefits for us, but it’s not very difficult to ensure that you and your children are actually meeting the daily requirements and obtaining the benefits of those powerhouse phytochemicals that give produce their colorful hues!

Now, it may not be very easy to get your children to eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but we have a few tricks for you to help you turn even the pickiest of eaters into a produce-eating machine! One of the easiest ways to ensure that you and your children are eating enough fruits and vegetables throughout the day is to remember the catchy phrase “eat the rainbow!” It’s very important to eat a fruit and / or vegetable at every meal (including snacks) and to be sure to eat a rainbow of colors every day. This is because each color is dictated by the phytochemical / antioxidant inherent in the fruit / vegetable and each color offers a distinct health benefit.

Not sure what colorful fruit provides which health benefit? Have no fear! I have a nice little cheat sheet for you that lists the most common colorful phytonutrients that give produce their bright colors and the health benefits that we get from these powerhouse particles! For example, red fruits and vegetables (such as apples and tomatoes) contain anthocyanins that help protect our hearts and prevent cardiovascular disease; orange fruits and vegetables (like carrots and sweet potatoes) contain beta carotene that protect our vision and boost our immune system; and blue fruits and vegetables (such as blueberries) improve and protect cognitive function. While the power to improve our quality of life is clearly in phytochemicals within the fruits and vegetables, the power to ensure that your children are actually eating their fruits and vegetables is in your hands! And it all starts with building a better lunch box!

Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables

Now, I will agree that school lunches have come a long way and now offer more healthy options for our children…. But they still are very processed meals and often include very unhealthy options, such as a bag of Doritos, a packaged sugar-loaded muffin, and what I like to call “mystery meat”…. Yuck! But the great news is that YOUR children do not have to eat those school lunches and we are now going to give you the tools you need to build a better lunch for your children and yourselves… and live a healthier lifestyle as a whole family!

Let’s talk about what to put into their lunch box. It’s very important to include a food item from each of the main food groups and of course lots of colorful fruits and vegetables! Before you start to think about how time-consuming making lunches will be, let me ease your worries with the beautiful concept of MEAL PREP! That’s right… if you plan ahead and prep lunches ahead of time packing lunch for the family will be a breeze! The best thing to do is pick one night a week (preferably Sunday night) to prep large batches of lean protein, whole grains, and cooked vegetables and use leftovers from dinner to create some awesome, balanced lunches for the whole week!

That is exactly what my 10-yr-old client's mother does for her and her younger sister and the girls have never been more excited to help make their lunches and eat them all week at school! I gave the same advice and guidelines to my client's mother and she has done a fabulous job with meal prepping and preparing her girls' lunches each night before school! The girls love their healthy lunches and their mother sends me a picture each night of their balanced lunch box. I am blown away by how easily the girls have adapted to a healthier lunch from home and I look forward to receiving their pictures of their awesome lunches!

 Winning combination of clean carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats with colorful veggies! And that's whole wheat pasta, which was something my client "did not like" but now she loves! Yay for whole grains!

Winning combination of clean carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats with colorful veggies! And that's whole wheat pasta, which was something my client "did not like" but now she loves! Yay for whole grains!

 Whole wheat turkey wraps and string cheese with watermelon and veggie chips :-) And cannot forget the "dessert" BelVita cookie sandwich made with dark chocolate spread!

Whole wheat turkey wraps and string cheese with watermelon and veggie chips :-) And cannot forget the "dessert" BelVita cookie sandwich made with dark chocolate spread!

 Another perfectly balanced lunch box complete with whole grains, some protein, fruit, veggies, and healthy fats. Perfectly quoted by my client's mother ... "Kid created, mom over-the-moon!"

Another perfectly balanced lunch box complete with whole grains, some protein, fruit, veggies, and healthy fats. Perfectly quoted by my client's mother ... "Kid created, mom over-the-moon!"

Happy girls, happy mom, and even happier dietitian!

So let's hop on the healthier lunch train and start building a better lunch box today!