GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Packing healthy school lunches for kids can be a challenge for many parents, and that challenge starts in the grocery store.
Registered dietician Jalak Patel holds grocery store tours once a month for patients at Bon Secours St. Francis.
“I use our USDA My Plate as a guide,” Patel says. “I just want them to be excited about walking into a grocery store and take a lot of the confusion out of what’s healthy and nutritious.”
She recommends making a list before heading to the grocery store and divide it into these sections: vegetables, fruits, protein (meat), dairy, grains and “miscellaneous.”
She says 80 percent of your cart should be nutritious items, and 20 percent can be “fun items.”
Patel says to always start grocery shopping in the fruits and vegetables section, then work around the perimeter to prioritize fresh ingredients before going into the aisles.
“You want half your cart to be fruits and veggies, then you can move on to protein, work your way to dairy section and then finish off with grains,” she says.
When shopping for kids, Patel stresses not to overthink it and to involve your children in the selection process of meals for the week.
“Make it simple,” she says. “Pick the protein they enjoy the most, get some fruits and veggies on that plate and a nice whole grain, and you have a meal. The more you introduce healthy foods to your kids, the more familiar they will be with them and the more likely they are to eat them.”
When reading food labels, she recommends focusing more on nutrients and less on calories.
“Vitamins, minerals, has fiber, less sugar, less sodium – those are going to give you more nutrition,” she says.
When it comes to sodium, she says to choose items with less than 150 milligrams per serving.
When in doubt, there are also apps such as Fooducate, which scans labels and gives food items ratings based on nutritional value.
Dieticians say when it comes to choosing your protein, use this saying: “the fewer the feet, the better the meat.”
Chicken is healthier than beef or pork, Patel says, but fish is healthier than chicken.
For more information on grocery tours through Bon Secours St. Francis, click here.
Click here for guidelines on healthy school lunches from the USDA.
To submit a question for our series, click here. You can also hear from experts at Bon Secours St. Francis on this topic and others every Saturday morning at 10am on 106.3 WORD radio.