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.


When It Comes to Eating Fruit and Vegetables, Keep It Colorful!

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

Most of us know that eating fruit and vegetables is good for our health: they increase our energy, provide us with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, control our weight, and reduce the risk for chronic diseases and some types of cancer. Yet, despite this knowledge, the majority of us are still not eating enough of them.

Latinos in particular are less likely than other groups to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This is not to say that all adults should be eating five servings per day; in fact, the recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables depends on our age, sex, and level of physical activity. Nonetheless, few of us know what a “serving” consists of.

Servings are typically measured by the ½ cup and cup. Examples of one serving of fruits and vegetables include:

  • 1 medium whole fruit, such as a banana or an apple
  • 2 cups of raw leafy greens (1 cup if chopped)
  • ½ cup of cut-up fruit or veggies

Click to enlarge and download:

The key to getting the most out of our fruit and vegetable consumption is to eat a variety of them. We should think in terms of colors and strive to eat fruits and vegetables that represent a whole rainbow of benefits.

For example, red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, red bell peppers, and strawberries contain lycopene, which may reduce the risk for certain cancers, and antioxidants that keep our hearts healthy. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and mangos contain carotenoids, which also promote good heart health as well as eye health.

For our next meal, let’s remember to keep it colorful. Here are a few tips on how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our daily lives:

  1. Keep fruit where we can see it. The convenience factor is a powerful thing. If it’s within our eyesight, it’s within our reach.
  1. Be adventurous in the produce aisle. Choose something new every so often. After all, variety is the spice of life.
  1. Save money by purchasing fruits and vegetables that are in season or frozen. Buying seasonally will also inject some variety into our meals and keep things interesting.
  1. Start early. While it’s never too late to try new foods, starting earlier is better. The earlier children are introduced to fruits and vegetables, the more likely they are to continue consuming them as adults.
  1. Make it a meal. Try cooking new recipes that include more vegetables. Salads and stir-fry are two ideas for getting tasty vegetables on our plates.

 This blog post and infographic 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.

Smart Shoppers Make Healthy Shoppers

By Paul A. Aguilar, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health, NCLR

Last month NCLR highlighted the many successes of its healthy shopping program, Comprando Rico y Sano.  Since 2010 this program has helped us reach more than 4,000 Latinos in 22 communities across the country.  This year NCLR updated the Comprando Rico y Sano curriculum and provided training and materials for 14 of its Affiliate organizations.  All of this was made possible by the generous support of General Mills’s Que Rica Vida and the Walmart Foundation.  With these committed partners and the dedication of our Affiliates, this program will provide 6,000 more Latinos with valuable information on how to make healthy food choices by the end of the year.  Over the course of the next few months, NCLR’s Institute for Hispanic Health will showcase the efforts of many of these organizations.

One notable Affiliate is TODEC Legal Center, which has been serving migrant communities in California’s Riverside, San Bernardino, and Imperial Counties for almost 30 years.  They work every day to provide equitable access to information and services for people with limited or no English proficiency, including immigrants and migrant workers.  Since Comprando Rico y Sano has been integrated into their existing services, the organization has facilitated educational sessions, or charlas, for close to 400 individuals in the community.

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