Tasty, Healthy School Lunches

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CBS/The Early Show
With concerns growing over obesity in America, it's more important than ever to provide kids with healthy meals. But sending your children off to school with a nutritious lunch they will actually want to eat takes some work.

Kathy Henderson, the lifestyle director for Child magazine gave some suggestions to parents on The Early Show.

The number of overweight children has doubled in the past two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and obesity-related diseases are on the rise. Compounding this problem, a report released by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine states, nine of the nation's ten largest school districts fail to provide healthy lunches.

It's always a challenge to get kids to eat healthy, says Henderson, especially at school when candy, cookies and other goodies are easily available. So, it's no surprise that parents like to send their children to school with a homemade lunch. However, just because a child totes a brown bag to school doesn't mean he'll eat what's in it. The key is for parents to fix nutrient-packed meals that are also fun to eat.

Children need about 500 to 600 calories at lunch, balanced among the food groups.

Henderson suggests taking a child grocery shopping and then allowing him to help prepare the lunch. The more work he or she is putting into it, the more excited he'll be and more likely he is to eat it. Fun food - unusual ingredients, combinations or shapes - is also key.

Henderson has some new twists on kid's favorite lunchtime ingredients. Each lunch has a creative sandwhich, fun side dish and healthy drink.

Peanut Butter

The staple in a classic American lunch. Packed with vitamin E and plant compounds important for a healthy heart, peanut butter is a nutritious food kids love. However, be sure to see if peanut butter is allowed at your child's school — some schools have asked parents not to pack it because of allergy concerns.

  • Berry patch sandwich: Graham crackers with peanut butter and sliced strawberries. This is a fun twist on PB&J. Kids enjoy bread substitutes such as crackers, pita or tortillas.
  • Squeezable yogurt: Add some yogurt to the diet in a soft plastic tube — kids love squeezing it directly into their mouths.
  • 100 percent juice box.

Just one tuna sandwich tackles nearly all of a child's vitamin B-12 requirement and a good chunk of the magnesium and niacin needs. Plus, it has some heart-healthy fatty acids.

  • Supreme bean sandwich: Tuna, mayo, onion, lemon juice and black beans rolled into a tortilla and cut into sections or small spirals. Anything cut into an unusual shape is fun for kids to eat.
  • Apple sauce: A healthy sweet and a serving of fruit all in one.
  • Milk: Horizon Organic sells two percent milk in small, juice-box-like servings. Flavors include plain, vanilla, strawberry and chocolate.

Turkey is teeming with vitamins and nutrients for energy, strong bones and a healthy immune system. When buying deli turkey, choose brands low in fat and sodium such as Empire Kosher, Butterball, Alpine Lace or Healthy Choice.

  • Thanksgiving Special: A mini corn muffin with cranberry sauce and turkey
  • Chocolate-dipped fruit: There's no need to deny kids fattening sweets when the treat is combined with something healthy.
  • Milk: The dairy product that refreshes.

Half of children under nine fall short of their daily calcium needs. Always try to buy reduced fat cheese.

  • Swiss Bliss: In a sandwich, add finely sliced Swiss cheese, yellow pepper, red pepper, lettuce and a little low-fat salad dressing in a whole wheat pita pocket. This allows parents to sneak some vegetables in with one of kids' all-time favorites — cheese.
  • Veggies and dip: Kids like anything "dippable."
  • Fruit smoothie: Pack this into a thermos; it's filling and healthy.