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Coach Mom Newsletter - aug 2011

Packing Healthy School Lunches that Kids Will Eat

As school begins again and you purchase new lunchboxes, think about changes you can make for better nutrition this year. Think beyond the “side of potato chip and cookie” norm, knowing you are supporting your child’s maximum learning potential and health with good nutrition. Those easy-to-grab processed and pre-packaged foods are usually loaded with preservatives, sugar, high fructose corn syrup and sodium. But, with a little planning, fresh, whole-food lunches can be simple and easy, too.


  • Children are able to maximize their lunchtime minutes by not having to wait in line to buy.

  • It can be less expensive.

  • It gives you the chance to put into your child’s diet more whole foods and less processed foods.

  • You can tuck notes in them for your child.


  • Reduce school-morning stress by preparing all sandwiches or wraps for the week over the weekend. Place them in individual sandwich bags, label each bag with a permanent marker (child’s name or type of sandwich), and place in a freezer bin. Pull out as needed each school morning to pack lunch boxes. (Note: do not freeze garnishes, such as lettuce, tomato and pickles.)

  • Freeze juice boxes (make sure the box says 100% juice) and put in lunch to keep it cold. It will be nice and cold and ready to drink by lunch time.

  • Freeze BPA-free bottles with 2/3 water.  Pull out of freezer in the morning and top off with water. It will be thawed and ready to drink by lunch time.

  • If you must buy pre-packaged lunches occasionally, aim for those with no more than a few hundred calories and the least amount of saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.

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Reading a Nutrition Label

Trying to discern if a food product is truly healthy can be difficult, since manufacturers are allowed to say whatever they want on the front of the package. If you want to know the true facts, look to the nutrition fact label. Understanding how to read a nutrition label will help you to make wiser choices.

1.     Serving Size -- First look at the "serving size" printed below "nutrition facts." The size of the serving on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. Take note of the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. For example, two Pop-Tarts come two in each package. The label says one serving is 200 calories. The catch is that's for one pastry.

2.     Calories and Calories From Fat - Next you'll see how many calories are in a serving and how many of those calories come from fat. Remember that the number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat (your portion amount). A 2-ounce serving of tuna has 60 calories, 5 of which come from fat. If you eat the whole 5-ounce can, multiply these amounts by 2.5 for a total of 150 calories and 12.5 fat grams.

3.     Nutrients to Limit – These are listed first. It shows how much of each nutrient is in a single serving by weight in grams and by %DV. This symbol refers to the recommended daily allowance for a nutrient based on a 2,000-calorie diet (you'll see that some nutrients, such as sugar and protein, don't have a %DV).

Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure. Studies show trans fats lower good cholesterol and boost bad cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart disease and strokes, according to the American Heart Association. They're also suspected of playing a role in cancer and diabetes.

If a serving contains less than .5 grams of trans fat, the manufacturer is free to list it as 0g on the nutrition label. The front of the package may say “O trans fats!”, but if you see “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredient list, trans fats are present.

4.     Nutrients to consume in greater amounts – According to the FDA, most Americans don't get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their diets. Eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.

5.     Footnote of Percent Daily Values – This information does not change from product to product, because it serves as a guideline to consumers. As you read the percentages of nutrients, remember that DV is based on 2,000 calories a day, and adjust your serving size. In general, a diet containing 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day is what is recommend for most women trying to lose weight and a diet containing between 1,200 and 1,600 is appropriate for most men trying to lose weight.

6.      Interpreting the % of DV – According to the FDA, anything reading 5% or less is low. Anything at 20% or more is high. Look for low percentages in the undesireable nutrients, and high percentages in the desireable nutrients. When you're in a hurry, sometimes the best you can do is compare three brands of the same product, such as chili. Manufacturers tend to standardize serving sizes. For chili, it's 1 cup. So when you check the different brands for %DV it's easy to see which contains more of the nutrients you want and less of those you don't want.

7.      Ingredients -- Ingredients are listed in order from the greatest amount to the least. In general, nutritionists say the fewer the ingredients, the better.


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Other Back-to-School Tips

Save your child from embarrassment tip: For moms whose oldest child is entering middle school… Before packing a lunch for your child in a reusable lunch bag like you did in elementary school, check to see if the lunch norm is “brown bagging” it. It might help the first day go a little easier.

Bone-building tip:  Going “low salt” helps the body have maximum calcium absorption. Every two extra grams of dietary sodium decreases the amount of calcium absorbed by 30 to 40 mg., according to Lynn Moss, M.S., R.D.


School shopping tip: Stock up on composition books while they are cheap and before stores sell out. Each year, after the high schoolers receive their supply lists, we need about 15-20 composition books between my five kids, says Brenna.

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