By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

Teaching your child to eat healthy at home is important, especially when it comes time during school days. School cafeterias have made an effort to improve the standards of the types of food they serve, and now many offer a variety of healthy foods - but your child can still choose an unhealthy mix of food.

Look over the school lunch menu with your children and emphasize the healthy options on the menu, such as fruit, milk, vegetables, lean meats and foods made with whole grain. Encourage your children to stay away from fried items on the menu. Find out whether items such as chips, soda and ice cream are available at the school and let your child know that these are not healthy choices. Rather than banning them, tell your child that it's OK to have these items occasionally, but not every day.

Pack your children's lunch as often as possible. This gives you more control over what they are eating. Let your children help you prepare their lunches. Start by making a list of foods that they enjoy eating. Don't forget to practice safe food handling while making your child's lunch:

  • Always wash your hands and have your children wash their hands before handling food. Put several moist towelettes in the lunchbox for hand cleaning before and after lunch.
    Use cold packs or freeze some foods and drinks overnight so that they stay cold until your child's lunchtime.
    Use a thermos for hot foods, such as soup.
    Wash out lunchboxes every night, or use paper lunch bags that can be thrown away.

You can make your child's lunch healthier by modifying regular lunchbox items:

  • Instead of white bread, try whole-grain breads, such as wheat or oat, or try using pitas or tortillas.
    Choose leaner deli meats, such as turkey.
    Buy reduced-fat or reduced-sugar peanut butter.
    Try light mayonnaise or mustard instead of regular mayonnaise.
    Instead of buying pre-packaged lunches, such as those that include crackers, lunchmeat and cheese, make your own.
    Instead of fried chips or snacks, buy baked chips, popcorn, trail mix or vegetables, such as celery or carrot sticks.
    Give your child yogurt, low fat pudding cups, gelatin cups, graham crackers, trail mix or homemade oatmeal cookies or fruit muffins instead of store-bought cookies or snack cakes.
    Buy fresh fruit or fruit cups packed in natural juices instead of syrup.
    For a drink, give your child milk, which is available at many stores in juice box-type packaging, water or 100 percent fruit juice. Many schools do not allow children to bring sodas to school.

Whether your child takes a lunch or buys lunch at school, encourage healthy choices that will provide energy to finish the rest of the school day.
Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children's special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.