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With the back-to-school rush comes fresh new clothes, trendy backpacks, and the latest lunch bags. Moms and dads are geared up and are planning efficient timetables, worrying over what classes are scheduled, and making sure the right after-school programs are set.
Somewhere in that pile of organization lies the task of laying out the lunch menu. School cafeterias and lunches have been getting better over the years—tater tots and cardboard pizza are still mainstays, but fruits and veggies have kept a toehold on kids’ trays. The recent Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed in 2010 as part of President Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to combat childhood obesity, has placed the emphasis on putting even more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into our school cafeterias, but most health-conscious parents still prefer to pack a nutritious, nourishing lunch for their little ones.
An important, but often-overlooked aspect of childhood nutrition is eye health. Sure, we’ve all heard that carrots can keep your peepers in tip-top shape, but what other foods should parents be feeding their kids? And what easy-to-make and simple-to-plan snacks should parents put in their loved ones’ lunch bags? A quick rundown of all of the essential nutrients for eye health features omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, beta-carotene (also known as vitamin A), vitamin C and D, fiber, and the antioxidant pair, lutein and zeaxanthin. The foods that contain lots of those elements include leafy green vegetables, cold-water fish, and orange-colored vegetables—not exactly the list that most parents want to see when thinking about creating a kid-friendly menu, but with a few creative recipes, we can whip up some super eye-boosting snacks your kids will scarf down.
Boring old baby carrots can still be a staple for kids and a gateway into good eye health if we spice them up a bit. The old fallback of carrots (filled with eye-enhancing beta-carotene and fiber) and hummus is a pretty foolproof snack, but bump up the flavor and make a quick yogurt dip by mixing 2 cups of Greek yogurt with a little minced garlic, juice and zest from one lemon, and ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Your kids will love the fresh flavors the dip adds to dull carrots. Another simple way to get them filling up on beta-carotene is to just add a little pumpkin to some yogurt for another easy dip. Take half a can of pumpkin puree and mix with ½ cup Greek yogurt, 1 teaspoon of honey, ½ teaspoon of vanilla, and toss in a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. For extra fiber, pack it up with graham crackers or some apple slices.
For the dreaded green vegetables that most kids balk at eating, try making kale chips (rich in antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin) to put in place of greasy, nutrient-lacking potato chips. Just preheat your oven to 350 degrees, take a bunch of washed and dried kale that’s had the stems removed and tear them up in to chip-sized pieces. Toss with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and garlic powder, and pop them in the oven for 12 minutes or until crisp.
You can also get a wallop of lutein and zeaxanthin from spinach, plus an orange-fueled vitamin C dose, by making your kids an eye-opening smoothie when they get home from school. Simply throw a large orange (minus the peel), half a banana, a few strawberries, 2 cups of spinach, 1/3 cup Greek yogurt, and a cup of ice into a blender and mix them up! It’s a great, refreshing treat that will give them a bunch of essential nutrients and keep ’em satisfied.
Avocados are packed with essential fatty acids and are another super source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are noted for their retina-protecting effects. To make a quick snack to pack in the lunch bag before the little ones head off to school, try this mini avocado sandwich recipe. Simply cut the crusts off of some slices of whole-wheat bread and roll the breads flat. Next, mix up ½ an avocado with 1 tablespoon of apple juice (to keep the avocado from browning). Fill each flattened slice with the avocado mixture and add American cheese or a smear of cream cheese, then combine and cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters or slice diagonally for easy snack that’ll keep those peepers peeping for years to come!
There are tons of super simple and awesomely quick recipes out there to keep your kids up to date on their eye health without having to force boring and uninteresting plain broccoli and carrots in their lunch bag everyday. Remember to select dark green leafy veggies and orange-colored foods for your main ingredients.