Robbinsville, NJ — Are you among the millions of parents who rank childhood obesity as your No. 1 health concern for your children?  Throughout September, National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association are raising awareness to this growing epidemic in the U.S. 

The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association estimate that nearly 68 percent of adults and nearly 32 percent of children and teens are overweight or obese—and carrying extra pounds can lead to devastating health issues including our nation’s No. 1 and No. 4 killers:  heart disease and stroke.  A healthy diet has many benefits including helping maintain a healthy weight, as well as reducing other health concerns such as high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes.

“Childhood obesity is associated with a broad range of health problems not previously seen until adulthood,” asserts COL (Dr.) Charles Garbarino, a board certified pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics from Livingston, NJ,  “Encouraging a healthy diet in childhood may help reduce risk for heart disease, stroke and other health complications later in life.”

Empowering your family to eat healthier includes sending them to school with nutritious options.  Here are some easy swaps to make a healthier lunchbox:

Make a Smarter Sandwich

While some kids prefer the same thing every day, others may be OK with a slight switch to their sandwich.

·         Use different breads like 100% whole wheat tortilla wraps (choose wraps low in saturated and trans fats) or 100% whole wheat pita pockets.

·         Besides lettuce, try shredded carrots or avocado slices with a turkey or lean roast beef sandwich.

·         Buy store brand blocks of low fat, low sodium cheeses. You save money when you slice it yourself. Or use a cookie cutter to cut into fun shapes.

·         Instead of lunchmeat, try leftover grilled chicken, lean pork or an egg white salad sandwich.

·         Always pack sandwiches with a mini cooler pack to keep them fresh and safe.

Love those Leftovers

Think about using the leftovers from a family favorite dinner for a next day lunch. Invest in a thermos to keep foods hot or cold until the lunch bell rings. Some ideas:

·         Low sodium tomato, vegetable or bean soups

·         Chili made with lean or extra lean ground meat or turkey

·         Whole wheat spaghetti with low sodium tomato sauce

·         Low sodium baked beans, bean casserole or beans & rice

Let Them Dunk

Sometimes it’s OK to let your kids play with their food, especially when they are getting extra nutrition. Try packing one of these fun dunks with dippers:

·         Apple and pear slices to dip into low fat or non-fat plain yogurt mixed with peanut butter.

·         Carrot, celery and sweet pepper strips to dip into hummus, fresh salsa or homemade bean dip.

·         Whole grain crackers (choose crackers low in sodium, saturated and trans fats) or slices of grilled low sodium tofu (a soybean product) to dunk into low sodium vegetable or tomato soup.

·         Unsalted sunflower seeds, crushed whole wheat cereal and sliced banana to mix into low fat vanilla yogurt (no added sugars) to eat with a spoon like a sundae.

Get Them Involved

While letting kids in the kitchen might mean a bigger mess, kids agree that they’re more likely to eat a meal they helped create! On nights you have a bit more time, tie an apron around the young ones and have them choose which piece of fruit or what type of bread they want and let them assemble their lunch. Make this a weekly routine – it’s another great way to spend family time together.

If your children aren’t used to eating these nutritious meal options, start slow and remember small changes are the recipe to success!

“Healthy habits start at home,” continues Garbarino.  “Teaching your family to make healthy choices may help them lead a healthier, longer life.”

For more tips and recipes for healthier lunches, visit www.heart.org/healthierkids