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Raising Healthy Children

Packing a Healthy School Lunch

Nutrition experts offer tips for parents to help their children make healthy selections in the cafeteria

young boy eating an apple

“Bad food choices in grade school can escalate into unhealthy eating habits by middle and high school that are hard to break,” says Tiffani Hays, a pediatric nutritionist at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

“Eating a school lunch will not be anyone’s demise, but if you eat pizza at school every day and then stop by McDonald’s after soccer practice, the cumulative long-term effects could be pretty serious. It’s all about learning to balance,” she says. Here are a few tips from Hays, director of Nutrition at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, to help your children make healthy selections in the cafeteria:

  • Discuss the lunch menu with your children and help them make smart choices. If children buy lunch, they should purchase and eat only one serving of any item.
  • Packing a healthy lunch is always a good idea. Teach your children to look for foods with less sodium and to watch their sugar intake—and decrease it if necessary.
  • Allow limited purchases at the cafeteria, especially for younger children. Some schools don’t control how much children spend on meal credit cards. Don’t give kids extra money to spend beyond the daily meal credit.
  • Encourage your children to eat three meals a day and plan an afternoon snack. Skipping breakfast and/or lunch will only make them famished and send them foraging in the pantry after school.

Learn more about how you can help your child mark smart food choices in the Johns Hopkins Health Library.

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