Newswise — Children are back in school making it a good time to start the school year off right with healthy eating habits. Nutrition experts at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are offering parents tips for packing healthy school lunches.

Today, in America, one in three children is considered overweight or obese. Obesity increases a child’s risk of developing serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure or cholesterol. Lunches should be well balanced, include a protein, and lean more heavily on grains, fruits and vegetables. Sweets and fats should be kept to a minimum.

“Healthier eating habits have well-documented health benefits such as helping to prevent obesity and other diseases, but healthier eating habits also help to fuel children’s brains for academics, their bodies for athletic performance, and also promote healthy skin and body weight,” said Children’s Hospital nutritionist Martha Upchurch.

“Teaching children healthy eating habits when they are young will help to set the stage for a healthy teenage and adult life,” added Upchurch. “Children discover they love certain healthy foods. When they realize this, they are more likely to make smart choices when a parent is not present.”

Healthy Lunch Tips

  • A healthy lunch contains at least three food groups. Anything else is a bonus!
  • Switch to whole grains. Whole gains compared to refined grains contain more nutrients.
  • Sneak veggies into a sandwich by adding spinach, avocado or carrots.
  • Liven it up with hummus, ranch, yogurt or peanut butter for dipping fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep it fresh – fresh fruits and veggies are preferable to canned or jarred.
  • Try to avoid sugary drinks such as sodas, sports drinks and flavored milks.
  • Make sweets a special treat, not an everyday indulgence.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes.