Several weeks into the (traditional) school year, many of us are back into school year routines - and habits, including what we put in our kids lunch boxes.
About a month ago, I wrote about new guidelines from the American Heart Association on sugar limits for kids. The association recommends that kids eat no more than six teaspoons - or 25 grams - of added sugar a day.
That might seem like a lot, but it isn't. Once you add up the sugar from the syrupy waffles for breakfast, that flavored yogurt for lunch and a granola bar for snack, your child probably has reached the sugar limit - or surpassed it - for the day.
But it's important to cut back. Diets high in added sugars, such as honey, table sugar and fructose, during childhood are linked to obesity and elevated blood pressure in children and young adults, both risk factors for heart disease. In fact, according to the heart association, overweight children who keep eating and drinking products with added sugars are more likely to become insulin resistant and eventually develop type 2 diabetes.
Sugar, however, isn't the only culprit. According to the heart association, "kids who eat high sodium diets are about 35 percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure than kids who eat lower sodium diets. In addition to heart health, sodium impacts bone, brain, stomach, and kidney health."
The heart association recommends a limit of 1,500 mg of sodium a day for all Americans, including kids. But, according to the group, kids ages 2 to 19 eat more than double that - 3,100 mg per day - thanks to salt laden processed foods and snacks such as pizza, cold cuts and cheese.
The heart association offers these tips for a healthy back-to-school season:
Model healthy eating. Use the American Heart Association’s diet and lifestyle recommendations for adults and the dietary recommendations for healthy children as guides.
Packing school lunch? Invite your kids to prepare healthy meals with you. It will get them excited about the food they are eating, and you will have more fun preparing it! The heart association has some kid-friendly recipes and other ideas for healthy school lunch.
Before you head to a restaurant on a busy school night, go online. Many restaurants now offer nutrition information online to find the healthier choices.
Consider your school’s lunch menu. Many school districts are improving the school lunch by increasing whole grains, fruits and veggies and decreasing sodium. And, in a recent national study of elementary school principals and foodservice managers, the majority of respondents - 70 percent - thought that “students generally seem to like the new school lunch.”
Volunteer with your school’s parent organization. Many parent organizations get involved in supporting changes that will lead to healthier meals at school.
Compare nutrition labels. You will be amazed at the difference in sodium content between similar products. Learn how to read nutrition labels.
Watch for the salty six for kids. When you shop at the grocery store, make sure to compare nutrition labels especially for these foods. These foods add the most sodium to kids’ diets: Pizza, breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, savory snacks, sandwiches, and cheese.
Keep offering lower sodium food options. Lowering the sodium content in foods can gradually lead to a lower preference for salty taste over time.
The American Heart Association has more tips on its website.