Better meals keep your kids healthier, more alert

Your child’s lunch box should be filled with the fuel he or she needs to pay attention and play hard.

But some traditional lunches might not meet the nutrition a young scholar requires, says Angelina LeBlanc, a registered dietitian with Ochsner Health System.

Every lunch should contain fiber, protein and dairy, LeBlanc says, offering these suggestions for a better lunch-box menu:

Sandwich swap

Most white bread lacks fiber, which keeps your child feeling full, and it causes blood sugar to spike, LeBlanc says.

“It’s hard to focus when our blood sugar is spiking and crashing,” she says. “Children get hungry quickly, so they’re not able to focus on their school work and do well with their sports or activities.”

A sandwich made with whole-grain breads or crackers provides a better form of fuel.

And, if you fill that sandwich with lean turkey or chicken and 2 percent cheese, you can meet all three of the fiber, protein and dairy requirements.

Get your crunch on

Some might think there is no better complement to a sandwich than the crunch of potato chips. But chips provide very little nutrition

“I think we’re so used to providing a potato chip — that’s kind of our habit,” LeBlanc said. “Now with our rising rate of childhood obesity, I think the focus has been on more fruits and vegetables and whole grains as side dishes.”

Vegetables cut into handheld portions — carrots, broccoli and celery — bring crunch to lunch along with fiber and other nutrients. Add low-fat ranch dressing as a dip. Or, LeBlanc recommends, sliced cucumbers with a little balsamic vinegar for a chip-like side.

Go Greek

Add Greek yogurt to the box. It fills both dairy and protein needs. And don’t be afraid to eat it with something other than a spoon.

“I think Greek yogurts that are out there right now are wonderful condiments on sandwiches,” LeBlanc says.

Instead of mayonnaise, spread yogurt on a sandwich or blend it into tuna salad. While mayo has become more heart healthy as companies developed canola oil and olive oil-based varieties, yogurt is still a healthier choice, LeBlanc says.

Of course, mustard is “always a freebie,” LeBlanc says. “It’s a great flavor enhancer.”

Not a piece of cake

Snack cakes pack a lot of calories and sugar.

“If you’re going with a traditional cake or cookie,” LeBlanc says, “I’m OK with that occasionally.”

To slake your child’s sweet tooth day in and day out, opt for smaller portions of sugary treats.

Fruits are always best, LeBlanc says, because they add fiber and vitamins. But she knows kids may grow tired of ostensibly healthy foods.

Applesauce blended with strawberries or blueberries often comes prepared in plastic cups without added sugar. Graham crackers are not overwhelmingly sweet, and 100-calorie packs of cookies limit the sugar in a child’s lunch.

“It gives the child a feel like a regular cookie,” LeBlanc says. “They’re lower in fat.”