Healthy Lunchbox Tips For Overweight Kids

By Jean Antonello, RN, BSN, obesity and eating disorders specialist and author of The Great Big Diet Lie, How to Become Naturally Thin® by Eating More, Breaking Out of Food Jail and Naturally Thin® Kids,

The 5 principles to follow in packing healthy lunchboxes for kids struggling with weight are simple, but don’t be deceived, they are crucial to ensuring that these kids don’t gain even more excess weight. The number one goal is to get plenty of high-quality calories into hungry kids so that their bodies can run at top efficiency—high (optimal) metabolic rate, plenty of energy to be active, and normal appetites. Kids who eat plenty of good food at regular mealtimes rarely binge on sweets or supersize their meals.

1. Ask your child to help you prepare his/her lunchbox.

Just like adults, kids have food preferences and aversions. It is important to respect your child’s particular likes and dislikes concerning foods. For example, tuna salad is a healthy sandwich filling, packed with protein and vitamins. But if your kid hates tuna, never, ever foist it on him. He won’t eat it, and then will dip into the vending machine and later become over hungry and overeat. Children naturally avoid foods that repulse them, in spite of their parents’ insistence that they at least “try” these foods. Kids also quite naturally outgrow their aversions of childhood and develop broader adult food interests. Parents can relax about this issue, unless it is really extreme. Even if a child’s food preferences are quite narrow for a period of time, just go with it. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day won’t hurt them one bit. The point is, talk to your kid about what he likes. Don’t judge his choices, just listen and make a list of all the foods he enjoys. You can help him by bringing up foods that work well in the lunchbox, but try to keep the conversation about your kid’s food list.

2. Pack plenty of food.

The temptation for some parents with kids who are overweight is to pack only what they “know” their child really needs. This means some type of restriction or food limit. They may also tend to restrict foods with higher fat content, like peanuts and cheese. These tactics, although understandable and motivated by love, will backfire. Kids with weight problems need quality calories and plenty of them. They need to be able to eat until they feel satisfied—enough food to get them through to the next meal or snack. So don’t skimp, and don’t pack diet or just low fat foods.

3. Pack only real food.

When I say “quality calories” I mean foods that have high nutrient content and are not excessively laden with sugar and/or fat. “Real foods” are meal-type foods that include the traditional five food groups: breads, grains and cereals; dairy products; meats, poultry and fish; fruits and vegetables; fats and oils. Real foods that are treated or prepared in such a way that adds excess fat or sugar changes their status to “borderline foods.” For example, potatoes are a wonderful real food, but fried up into potato chips or French fries, they become unacceptable for kids’ healthy lunchboxes.

4. Pack a variety of foods including foods from all three calorie sources.

Kids’ bodies need calories from protein foods, carbohydrate foods and healthy fats. Keeping the five food groups in mind may help as you put lunches together because these groups cover the spectrum of food variety. For example, a roast beef and swiss cheese sandwich with tomato on grainy bread already has protein, fat and carbohydrate covered. The bread is from grains, the tomato is from vegetables/fruits, the beef is from meat, the cheese from dairy. Throw in some carrot sticks with ranch dip and a carton or two of milk and voila! You’ve got a healthy and tasty lunch to go

5. Keep checking in with your child about how his lunches are working.

Parents often assume that their kids are doing fine with their lunchboxes when it is far from the truth. Often, kids just don’t bring up problems, and perhaps overweight kids are even more reluctant to complain than kids of normal weight. So, it is up to parents to be checking in with their kids now and then. Naturally, if you find a lot of leftover food in the lunchbox, ask your child what the problem might be. Overweight children and adolescents sometimes are reluctant to eat in front of their peers because they are embarrassed. They may be ridiculed in the cafeteria. It is so important to find out why kids aren’t eating at lunchtime. Many overweight kids try to eat less to lose weight. This always backfires, so they need to be educated about how their bodies work concerning eating and weight gain.

It may be tempting to try to correct your child’s weight problem by packing less food, diet-type foods or low fat foods, but these things will only make matters worse. Kids need to learn to eat good quality food at regular intervals and never go hungry. We must teach them how. The results are amazing: balanced appetites, high metabolic rates and well-fueled energy levels. Isn’t this is what we’re all after for our kids?

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