Lunchbox overhaul

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Healthy house: Robin Funk of Oak Park suggests being a discerning grocery shopper. | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Based on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, the Department of Agriculture has issued a higher nutrition standard for school lunches. As of July 2012, in an effort to help children be healthier and to rein in childhood obesity rates, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy have to be offered daily to kids in public and private schools. Also, the sodium, saturated fat and trans fat content has to be reduced in all meal programs. These new regulations are in place for school-supplied meals; however, what about lunches that come from home?

A jaunt down the grocery store isle will quickly reveal all of the available unwholesome options. Food that is over processed and packaged, full of fat and loaded with sugar is presented to consumers and children in shiny cartoon-laden packages at kid eye-level.

“Having healthy choices for my kids is important to me. I like to know what they’re eating during the day,” said Robin Funk, Oak Park mother of two. “I find that I really have to be a discerning shopper when buying groceries for my family.”

Don’t succumb to the lure of convenience or smartly marketed subpar food for your child’s school lunches. Take your kids nutrition earnestly and help them to eat well by following these tips:

Be mindful when you shop

Kids need whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, calcium and good sources of protein to be healthy. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where most fresh foods are located. Watch out for the center isles where junk food tends to lurk. Skip the chips, fizzy drinks and sweets. Bring a list so that you don’t make an unhealthy impulse buy. Read the nutrition labels to be certain that what you’re buying is good for your child-juice beverages, cocktails or drinks are not the same as 100 percent fruit juice.

Don’t forget about food safety

Keep perishable items — meat, fish, poultry, dairy — chilled properly. Use a thermos or ice pack when necessary. Keep lunchboxes out of direct sunlight and away from any heating vents. To stave off food-born illnesses, avoid packing temperature sensitive items.

Lunches with panache

Let your brood pick out their own lunch box and buy fun reusable containers in lieu of sandwich bags. For younger kids, use cookie cutters to make sandwiches with different shapes. Include handwritten love notes, words of inspiration, jokes or anything that might make your child beam with delight.

Getting your child to eat a nutritious lunch is as simple as it is essential.