LEWISTOWN - First Lady Michelle Obama might have public school nutrition programs whipped into shape, but who is taking care of those packed lunches and weeknight dinners?
With the busy schedule that inevitably hits at the start of each school year, making healthy choices is often forgone in favor of fast food and frozen pizza.
"It's difficult to fit nutritious meals and packed lunches in when families have sports games or school functions every night," said Joyce Whitford, registered dietitian at Geisinger Medical Center in Lewistown. "But parents need to remember that they are the biggest influence as children are forming eating habits. It's the parents' responsibility to make sure kids are eating right."
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Fresh fruit, available now at area farmer’s markets, is a perfect addition to any meal.
The best suggestion is to plan ahead, said Angie Wallace, nutritional consultant at BeWell Associates in State College. Take advantage of free time over the weekend to plan a meal schedule and to prep any food or snacks.
"Grilling or cooking chicken breasts ahead of time will provide a good option for packed lunches. You can use a bottled marinade to change up the flavor," Wallace said. "I'm also a huge fan of the crockpot. You can add your meat and veggies and have a meal in eight hours that could work for a packed lunch or prepared dinner."
If you're interested in simplified lunches, think of protein first, Whitford said. Children, especially, need protein for healthy growth and cell reproduction, she added.
"Use a sandwich shaper to make peanut butter sandwiches more interesting, pack an interactive snack like string cheese or a tasty flavored yogurt," Whitford said. "All these things are excellent sources of protein and make lunch more fun to eat."
When planning a lunch it's good to think in terms of MyPlate, a visual nutrition guide for a healthy plate of food based off dietary guidelines and developed by the Department of Agriculture. According to choosemyplate.gov, each meal should include 30 percent grains, 30 percent vegetables, 20 percent protein, 20 percent fruit and a small serving of dairy such as a cup of milk or yogurt.
A MyPlate lunch could consist of something like whole grain bread with peanut butter and bananas, carrot sticks with dressing, and a milk or juice box, Wallace said. For an allergen-free alternative, try gluten-free bread with sunflower seed butter, she added.
Portion control is also important when dinner time rolls around, Whitford said. Use small serving utensils to put the food on a small plate for children. Keep in mind that children should eat until they are full, not necessarily until the plate is clean, she added.
"Let your children get involved in the preparations and serving process," Whitford said. "That way they become familiar with the food and the amount that is healthy to eat. They are more likely to eat their vegetables if they help make them."
Visit choosemyplate.gov for nutritious recipes and more healthy eating tips.