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Good to Go: Make over school lunches and snacks

Thursday - 8/22/2013, 8:07am  ET

Charlie.JPG
Put down the peanut butter and jelly and spice up your brown bag routine with healthy, quick and easy alternatives. (WTOP/Katie Howard)

Katie Howard, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Lunchrooms will soon be swarming with students who are hungry for more than just knowledge.

Whether your kids lunch on a cafeteria-provided meal or decide to brown bag it, one local organization says parents and schools ought to be more mindful of the food and drink choices offered to students.

According to PreventObesity.net, a locally-based, online grassroots campaign dedicated to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic, more than 23 million children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese or overweight.

This diagnosis puts nearly one-third of young people at risk for life-threatening health problems.

A major contributor to this staggering statistic is school food.

"A big part of what kids eat comes from schools, so it's vital that the foods and beverages served on campus are healthy and nutritious," says Elizabeth Brotherton- Bunch, new media senior writer and editor at PreventObesity.net.

As a result of new USDA guidelines, your child's lunchroom and vending machines might be getting a makeover. Snack offerings will be fresher and will contain less sugar and fat. In addition, most snack choices will have less than 200 calories.

Opting to pack your child's lunch? It's time to get creative.

Put down the peanut butter and jelly and spice-up the routine with healthy and easy alternatives.

For kids, especially the young ones, presentation is key.

Recently, my daughters and I were on the hunt for a snack. Before we caved to the cupboard's offerings, I opened up the fridge and opted for something fresh.

I grabbed one slice of turkey, grapes, tomatoes, a cucumber, peaches and a carrot. With those ingredients, my daughters designed a fun afterschool treat -- and named that treat "Crunchy Charlie."

Here's how "Charlie" works:

  • Place the sliced turkey on half of a mini-bagel, pita bread or rice cake. A slice of lettuce, peanut butter or tofu are great alternatives for vegetarians.
  • Start piling on the face decorations. Sliced cherry tomatoes work well for eyes, a thinly-sliced cucumber makes for a nice nose and a baby carrot is a great mouth.
  • For other parts of the face, slice a peach into quarters to make ears and add grapes for 3-D hair.
For more inspiration, check out some free resources on healthy school lunches. Let's Move! offers a cookbook with 54 recipes from kids, themselves, and We Can! offers tips on how to add variety to an ordinary lunch.

When it comes to sizing up those lunch bag snacks, The Pew Charitable Trusts has a helpful infographic that you can print and stick on your fridge.

Five days of healthier back-to-school lunches and snacks can be daunting, but they can be fun, too, with a little creativity in the kitchen.

Editor's Note: WTOP's Katie Howard is a mom on the go. With two children under age 5, she's always looking for ways to provide her family fast and healthy snacks, meals and activities. Katie share her go-to food and family fitness tips every Tuesday on her blog "Good to Go."

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter.

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