Heart healthy lunches for kids

School is back in session and doctors have a health warning for parents as the kids get back in the swing of things. They're urging parents to think twice about what food you pack in lunch bags because it can set them up for good or bad heart health.

The contents of a child's lunch are usually at the mercy of parents and the items that go in lunches are the ones that are easy enough to pack up. They're also the things that parents know their kids will enjoy like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with chocolate milk. 

But it's things like fruit and whole grains that will make a difference in the long run. Things like rainbow trout, tuna and ribeye steak which sound good to adults but maybe not so much to kids. That's what pediatric cardiologists at Dell Children's are trying to change.

Dr. Stuart Rowe says that many of the cardiovascular risk factors that develop in childhood will follow into adulthood. He says much of that is triggered by a child's diet and activity level.

"Heart health in adults begins as good heart health in children," Dr. Rowe says. "We do see kids with elevated blood pressure, elevated insulin levels and glucose levels so we know those kids are on their way to hypertension and diabetes and I consider it very unfortunate because these are things that can be changed."

The path to a heart healthy diet starts with somewhat of a Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low fat or non fat dairy products. 

The quantity and quality of the foods children eat could also affect their weight. Poor quality food and lack of cardiovascular activity could add to the already 10% of U.S. children that are obese.

"If you are obese it means that you likely have higher blood sugar, higher cholesterol, higher triglycerides, higher blood pressure and so all the risk factors escalate if you are overweight," Dr. Rowe says.

The obesity rate for those children rises to between 20 and 25 percent in adolescence. But Dr. Rowe says that's why parents should be role models for heart healthy eating for their kids.

Dr. Rowe says eat whole foods, exercise together and definitely do things around the home that make it easy for the whole family to eat healthy items.

"There are things that can be done to try to encourage heart healthy eating habits, having the fruit cut up ahead of time and having it for snacks after school and having the fruit cut up in animal shapes and things like that that make it fun for the kids," Dr. Rowe says.

Parents are reminded that it's easier to prevent, than treat, a health issue later in life. 

A good idea for a packed lunch includes turkey on whole grain with lots of veggies like lettuce and tomato. Also skip out on the sweet treats and place some carrots with hummus as a snack.

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