Early Thursday morning, children in Hamilton County will embark on their first day of school with backpacks slung over shoulders and lunchboxes in hand.
But before you snap those lunchboxes shut, take another look inside. Did you make sure to pack one serving of vegetables and one serving of fruit? What about dairy? Your child needs that, too, either in the form of cheese sticks, a carton of milk or a cup of yogurt.
And don't forget the protein: Peanut butter is easy. Roast beef, chicken and tuna are terrific choices, too, if you keep them cold with an ice pack.
Or, like many parents in a rush, did you opt for the easy way out with prepackaged meals, all loaded with fat and sodium?
You've heard it before: Childhood obesity is a major problem and doesn't appear to be getting much better. According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, one of every three children in the United States is overweight or obese. The most recent figures from 2012 reveal that the percentage of obese children ages 6 to 11 in the U.S. rose from 11.3 percent in 1988 to 17.7 percent in 2012.
So what can you as parents do? Encourage physical activity -- that means time away from computers, tablets and smartphones -- and offer foods that they will enjoy while sneaking in those foods and nutrients that they need in their daily diets -- calcium, fruits, vegetables and protein.
Here are some easy ideas from the American Heart Association that will add a little excitement to lunchtime fare:
• Pack hummus with fresh veggies and whole-wheat pita triangles or flatbreads for dipping. Hummus is a good, low-fat protein source and is high in iron and vitamin C. Or try low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese with carrots, cherry tomatoes, fresh berries or melon for a calcium-rich, high-protein lunch.
• Pack a salad topped with lean protein like hard-boiled eggs, beans or chicken for a tasty alternative to sandwiches. Lunchtime salads will also help get kids on track with their daily vegetable servings. In a hurry? Buy bags of lettuce or precut carrots. Pack low-fat dressing in a separate container to prevent soggy salads. And don't forget a plastic fork to make things easier on your youngster.
• Freeze healthy drinks to keep your lunch cool. They make perfect ice packs.
• Kids eat more fruit when it's already cut up. Try oranges and Ginger Gold or Cortland apples, since they're slow to brown.
Finally, size does matter, so watch your portions. Because there's too much of everything on their plates, kids are getting far more calories than they need daily. Here are guidelines from the American Heart Association that may surprise you. A serving size is:
• 1 slice of bread
• 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
• 1 small piece of fruit (super-large apples are 2-plus servings)
• 1 wedge of melon
• 1/2 cup fruit juice
• 1 cup milk or yogurt
• 2 ounces cheese (about the size of a domino)
• 2-3 ounces meat, poultry or fish (about the size of a deck of cards)
This is good information for all of us since most servings, particularly those we get when we eat out, are well over the standard portion size so we're all getting extra calories we don't need.
The Chattanooga Market's exciting Five-Star Chefs' Food Fight happens Sunday and features five of Chattanooga's top chefs going skillet-to-skillet, matching a secret ingredient -- beef, chicken, pork or fish -- with produce purchased from market vendors who bring their fruits, vegetables, eggs, honey, breads and other locally produced foods to the First Tennessee Pavilion every Sunday.
Melissa Siragusa, market spokeswoman, says the live cooking competition is one of the best-attended events of the market season. It "demonstrates the area's best chefs and allows patrons to watch how they cook with fresh ingredients right from the market," she says.
Blacky Smith, chef at Beast and Barrel, will return this year to defend his winning title from last year's food fight. Joining him this year will be:
• Peter Barlow, Easy Bistro and Bar
• Rebecca Barron, St. John's Restaurant
• Eric Fulkerson, Bald-Headed Bistro
• Eric Pippert, Alleia
The market opens at 11 a.m., and the cook-off will start about 12:30 p.m., with the winner announced around 2:30.
Contact Anne Braly at email@example.com.