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Pack A Healthy Lunch So Your Kids Don't Pack On Pounds

Armen Hareyan's picture

With America's obesity epidemic increasingly impacting our youth, a healthy, nutritious lunch is perhaps the most important item you can pack for your child on the first day of school and throughout the school year. The beginning of the school year presents the perfect opportunity for parents to teach their kids good eating habits -- beginning on day one.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the percentage of children who are overweight or obese tripled between 1980 and 2000 and type 2 diabetes is at an unprecedented high among this group. According to Daniel Hale, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Chief, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, "Ten years ago we saw very few cases related to diabetes and obesity but today 75 percent of the referrals we see in our clinic are related to both in children. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for us to see 12- and 13-year-old patients who weigh 300 pounds."

An April 2007 report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences states unequivocally that the school environment plays a vital role in shaping children's life-long health and dietary patterns. Parents can help their kids stay fit and healthy by providing well-balanced lunches that are low in saturated and trans fats, high in lean protein and rich in vitamins and minerals.

"By packing a lunch that includes lean proteins like canned tuna, along with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy, parents ensure that their children get the healthy foods they need to stay mentally and physically fit," said Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD, co-author of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers and co-founder of MealMakeoverTV.com.

A Tidal Wave of Science Supports Fish

In October 2006, the Institute of Medicine released a report that said consuming at least two seafood meals per week is safe and beneficial for American families. A growing body of evidence, including studies published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, proves that the lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids in fish, including canned tuna, are essential for building a strong body and mind. Omega-3s are proven to increase mental acuity and decrease the likelihood of developing diabetes, obesity, asthma and inflammatory disorders in children of all ages.

The FDA has repeatedly stated that tuna is a beneficial food for families. In addition, the American Heart Association recommends that children eat at least two servings of fish each week to reap its numerous health benefits.

Packing A Lunch Kids Will Love

To make sure your children bring fun and nutritious meals with them to school, Bissex recommends these easy-to-follow tips:

1. Keep food cold and safe by packing an ice pack in an insulated lunch box.

2. Pack your child's favorite cut-up fresh fruit and include a toothpick or place fruit on a skewer to make eating it more fun.

3. Include a small container of low fat ranch dressing to make veggies, like baby carrots and red pepper strips, more appealing.

4. Offer a low fat cheese stick or yogurt for bone-building calcium.

5. Include a variety of lean protein sources such as tuna, turkey, and chicken.

6. Pack a healthy beverage of 100 percent fruit juice, water, or low fat milk.

Lunch Box-Ready Recipes

"The biggest barrier to eating fish, including canned tuna, is ideas for quick preparation," Bissex said. "These updates on tasty tuna classics are an easy and delicious way for parents to guarantee that their children are getting the nutrition they need to keep them at the head of the class. And if you're short on time, pouched tuna requires no draining and flavored, single serve tuna by the can eliminates the preparation and the mayonnaise."

If at first you don't succeed in introducing your children to new foods, try, try again -- a child may try something a dozen or more times before they will eat it regularly.

Classic Tuna Sandwich

Makes 4 servings


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* 6 oz. chunk light tuna

* 1/4 c. mayonnaise

* 1 hard-cooked egg, chopped

* 2 tsp. lemon juice

* 1/2 c. celery, chopped

* 2 tbsp. chopped black olives or sweet pickle relish

* 2 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning

* 8 slices bread

* Curly-leaf lettuce leaves

* Directions

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except bread; mix well. Chill several hours. Line 4 slices of bread with lettuce, top each with 1/4 tuna mixture, and top with the remaining bread. Prep time allows for cooking the egg. Reduce prep time to 10 minutes if egg has been previously cooked

Scoop-It-Up Tuna Salad

Makes 2 Servings


* One 6-ounce can solid white or light tuna in water, drained and flaked

* 1 small carrot, shredded (about 1/2 cup)

* 3 tbsp. light canola mayonnaise

* Salt and pepper

Scoopers: Baked tortilla chips, cucumber wheels, mini whole wheat pitas, whole grain crackers


Combine the tuna, carrot, mayonnaise, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl and mix well. To pack for a school lunch, place the tuna salad in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Pack "scoopers" in separate containers.

The National Fisheries Institute's (NFI) Tuna Council, previously known as the U.S. Tuna Foundation, represents the major canned and pouched tuna brands in the United States. The Tuna Council focuses on a diverse range of consumer and sustainability issues including product safety and tuna conservation and management.