Parent Connection

Guest Columnist - Lynn Kistler, MS, RD

Healthy Lunches Ė Why are they so important to student success?

You may have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but did you know that lunch is a very close second? Lunch plays a critical role in a childís overall health and performance at school. When children skip lunch, they may have trouble concentrating in the classroom. They will lack the energy necessary to perform well in sports and are more likely to overeat and choose unhealthy snacks after school.

Whether children eat a lunch packed from home or have a school-provided lunch, the goal is a nutrient-rich meal to fuel their brains and bodies for the afternoon. When packing a lunch, you canít go wrong by following the MyPlate style of eating ( This will ensure your lunch contains all of the nutrients children need for proper growth and development -- including grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables and dairy. Since most school lunches are now following the MyPlate style, your job as a parent is to encourage your child to not only choose a fruit and vegetable at lunch time, but to also eat them. Most of the time, it takes a little loving encouragement or kind reminder from parents to get children to make healthier food choices.

If you are packing lunch, provide foods with a nutritional punch that are appealing to your child. If you get your child involved in planning their lunches, they are much more likely to eat them. Try the following ideas to create lunches your child will eat rather than trade, throw away or bring back home. In each lunch, start with low-fat proteins such as meats, cheeses or peanut butter, then add servings of whole-grains, fruits and vegetables, and finish with a serving of dairy.

Be creative:

  1. Make whole-grain hummus and veggie wraps.
  2. Try whole wheat pita pockets filled with leftover grilled chicken, grated low-fat cheese and veggies.
  3. Skip the pre-packaged lunches. Instead make a bento box, or use colorful containers to hold individual food items.
  4. Add low fat yogurt dips to make eating veggies more fun and tasty.
  5. Cut foods into bite-sized pieces or slices. Slice sandwiches in four squares or use cookie cutters to make shapes.
  6. Trade the fruit snacks and roll-ups for fresh fruit in fruit juice
  7. Get back to the basics when it comes to drinks. All kids really need is low-fat milk or water.

Even though these tips may sound easy, they will need active parent involvement for the best results.

About the Author

Tracy L. JacksonLynn Kistler is a registered dietitian for Childrenís Hospital of The Kings Daughterís Healthy You for Life program. She received her masterís degree and completed her dietetic internship through James Madison University. Previously, Kistler worked with the Navy in health promotion for six years and served as program manager for the weight management program known as ShipShape. She received a certificate of training in adult weight management from the American Dietetic Association and a health promotion director certification from the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research.