Five Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches

Latina_ChildObesity_560_292It’s that time of year again—parents throughout the nation are once again thinking about what to put in their children’s school lunchboxes. It’s a balancing act to pack a lunch with healthy foods that our children will actually eat. We’re battling the influence of TV advertisements for processed foods and classmates whose lunches are not on the healthy foods spectrum. As parents, it can be a daily challenge to pack a lunch that makes everyone happy. Here is some advice from the health experts at NCLR.

  1. Include at least one serving of fruit or vegetable in every lunch. Try grapes, pears, melon, berries, apples, or pineapple. Fruits cut into slices, cubed, or with yogurt may be more appealing for children. Baby carrots, sliced celery, bell peppers, and cucumbers make excellent lunch sides. You can also sneak these vegetables and lettuce into sandwiches.
  2. Use whole grains and lean meats. Sandwiches are a popular and convenient choice for school lunches. They can provide children with at least 2–4 of the different food groups. When choosing bread, read the nutrition label to see if “whole grain” is the first ingredient listed or choose bread that is labeled “100% whole wheat”; white, “enriched,” and “refined” breads have little nutritional value. If the main flour listed on the label is “wheat” or “unbleached wheat flour,” the product is not whole grain. For protein, use lean luncheon meats, such as low-fat turkey breast, chicken breast, or ham. If you must add cheese, make sure it’s also low-fat. With peanut butter, opt for natural or a brand that has no additives, when possible.
  3. Follow the recommended portions for children. It can be confusing to figure out how much food your child is supposed to eat, especially when restaurants often present us with large portions that do not reflect dietary recommendations. The USDA is set to release their 2015 recommendations later this year. For now, check out these American Heart Association recommendations that promote heart health for different age groups.
  4. Be careful with added sugars and fat. Most of us, including children, consume more sugar than we should. An obvious tip is to limit cookies, snack cakes, doughnuts, brownies, and other sweet baked goods. Sweet baked goods are often packed with sugars, as well as saturated and trans fats. Remember that these are meant to be treats and consumed only in small portions, every once in a while—not every day. Sugar is also found in foods we often don’t think of as being “sugary,” such as juice. If you pack juice, make sure it’s 100 percent juice, which is not always the case with many of the popular juice drinks for children. Water is an even better choice. Milk is an excellent source of dairy, if you are mindful of recommended servings per day and choose low-fat or non-fat milk rather than whole milk, which has more fat and cholesterol.
  5. Include variety and start early. The key to providing children with good nutrition is to have well-rounded meals that include the various food groups. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, keep it colorful and strive to eat fruits and vegetables that represent a whole rainbow of benefits. Presentation matters, even for children, so get creative with designing fun and visually appealing meals and snacks. Remember to start early and introduce healthy foods as early as infancy.

Lastly, children often do as they see. As parents and adults, we are in the best position to model healthy habits. It’s never too late to improve our own health habits!

This blog post is part of Comprando rico y sano, a program supported by the Walmart Foundation and General Mills, Inc.


Home-Cooked Meals Are Good for Your Health and Your Family

By Elizabeth Carrillo, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health, NCLR

Like many families, my family values the time we spend together. For us, that usually involves food—specifically, making and sharing meals.

With summer around the corner, one of the things we look forward to most is enjoying the fresh fish that my uncles catch. All five of my uncles are avid weekend fishermen, and it’s a family tradition to serve the fresh grouper, sea bass, and flounder they catch during a big Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house.

There is nothing like ceviche to bring the siblings, children, and grandchildren together. In just a short time, my mother debones the fish, while relatives chop up herbs and vegetables. The aroma of squeezed lime, cucumbers, avocadoes, and onions fills the house, while laughter and conversation are our soundtrack. A few hours later, the whole family enjoys delicious, fresh, healthy ceviche.

My mother and her eight siblings grew up in a small town surrounding Lake Chapala in Jalisco, Mexico. While they were very poor, they also grew up eating fairly healthily. Since red meat was expensive, my grandfather would often go fishing, making seafood their main source of protein. Staples such as whole beans, corn tortillas, and seasonal fruits and vegetables rounded out the menu.

Eating home-cooked meals today is an option for many, but for my mother’s family it was simply their way of life. Fast-forward to their grandchildren in the U.S. and you see a different picture. It reflects lifestyle changes over the past generation and includes some processed and less healthy foods.

There is no escaping the fact that life has changed. Everyone’s schedule is hectic today, and it is tempting to resort to convenience foods that have poorer nutritional value. However, these days there is a cultural shift to return to knowing where our food comes from and what goes into it. One way to experience this is to cook meals ourselves.

As we wrap up Minority Health Month and reflect on the health and nutrition needs of Latinos, it is important to remember that home cooking is key to improving our health and preventing conditions that disproportionately affect us, such as diabetes and obesity. Cooking at home gives us more control over ingredients, allowing us to use more natural foods, like fruit and vegetables, and less salt and sugar. It also allows us to exercise portion control, which helps us maintain a healthy weight and reduces our urge to overeat at restaurants.

If you’re reading this and thinking that you don’t have time to cook more meals at home, think again. In the time it takes you to drive to a restaurant, place an order, wait for it, and drive home, you could have made a simple, healthy meal from scratch with time to spare for your family. Preparing half of the week’s meals on a Sunday and the other half mid-week is another way to save time.

Home-cooked meals and time-saving techniques make it possible for us to enjoy more of the one thing that is beyond measurement: the special time together that comes with preparing and sharing a meal as a family. Simply put, the benefits of home-cooked meals are many.

Ready to get cooking? Check out this quick and easy recipe for a healthy meal to end your busy day!

(Click to enlarge)

This blog post and these infographics are part of Comprando rico y sano, an NCLR program supported by the Walmart Foundation and General Mills, Inc.

America’s Changing Families

By Joseph Rendeiro, Media Relations Associate, NCLR

Hands on a globe

When my parents and my grandparents emigrated to this country about half a century ago, they, like many other new immigrants, ended up settling into a community of mostly newcomers from their home country. They lived in a predominantly Portuguese enclave of the city, where Portuguese girls often ended up marrying Portuguese boys and continued producing Portuguese babies. This really isn’t unique to just them. The idea that America has always been this melting pot is somewhat flawed, when you consider that, for decades, a lot of communities self-segregated.

But as a twenty-five year old, I can see this melting pot idea becoming a reality for my generation. The defined rules for who you can and cannot love have been changed for the better. All around me, I see more families of mixed race and mixed religions, with two dads and two moms, which only add to the beautiful quilt of families that this nation has already been blessed with.

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Reflecting on National Nutrition Month

fruits and veggies

Every March we observe National Nutrition Month.  As this March draws to a close, we at NCLR’s Institute for Hispanic Health thought it fitting to highlight the work we have been doing to promote healthy living in Latino communities.  We have been crisscrossing the country in an effort send the message that Latinos have much to gain from engaging in healthy eating habits.

Through our promotores de salud (lay health workers), we empower Latino families to take control of their health and reduce their risk factors for obesity and chronic disease.  Our trainings have provided these promotores with the skills and resources to promote healthy living in their own communities.  Participants in one of our programs, Selección Sana, Vida Saludable, learn to do three things:  perform an environmental scan assessing the community’s support of healthy living, conduct educational outreach to Latinos, and serve as a link between the Latino community and health care services such as federal assistance programs.

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