Lighten Up: School Daze

Cathleen Kronemer

By Cathleen Kronemer

One of the things I have always loved most about summer vacation was the 12-week break from making school lunches. Yes, ever since our girls were in kindergarten, and right up until the last day of senior year in high school, I was one of “those moms.” Between lunches and after-school snacks, it often became a challenge to come up with creative and healthy ideas day after day that the girls would actually eat and not trade at the cafeteria table.

With all of the advertisements being thrown at our children these days, for everything from sweets to junk food, how can parents combat the media and redirect their sons and daughters toward a healthier lifestyle? Stepping outside the box is a good place to start.

If we embark on this road when our children are in grade school, we can be laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating. The key is to make school lunches colorful and fun to eat. Sandwiches made with lean protein and whole-grain bread go from “ho-hum” to “oh, yum!” when they are cut into creative shapes with cookie cutters. Instead of a piece of whole fruit, slicing an orange into “smiles” will brighten up any child’s lunch period. Lowfat animal crackers are a healthier sweet treat, and a delightful upgrade from potato chips.

If the typical lunch fare is getting a little predictable, spice up the lunchbox with a thermos of healthy vegetable soup and some goldfish crackers. Filling slices of celery with peanut butter or lowfat cream cheese and topping with raisins adds fiber as well as fun.

Pita pockets, which now come in whole-grain varieties, can be stuffed with a multitude of fillings. Tuna salad with chopped apples is a fun favorite; or try making a “pocket pita pizza” filled with ground beef, pizza sauce and shredded cheese. Lowfat cottage cheese with fruit is a delicious source of calcium. Add a handful of high-fiber crackers and some baby carrots with dip and you have the makings of a unique lunch that just night be the highlight of the lunch table.

One of my secret weapons was to occasionally include a colorful napkin in the girls’ lunches. Holidays provide a perfect opportunity for theme-based paper goods ~ red napkins with hearts for Valentine’s Day, orange ones on Halloween, or even green and pink napkins on the first day of spring have a way of brightening up even the dreariest school day.

Encouraging kids to make good food choices can be easier than you may think. It is up to us as parents to set good examples at home, and to carry through with those healthy options even as we send our precious cargo off to school!

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Lifestyle/Weight Management Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.