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Healthy choices for lunch boxes and backpacks

As you start filling the kids' lunch boxes and backpacks for the new school year, experts have some tips on making healthy choices to keep kids eating right and to avoid neck and back pain from overloaded bags.

What’s the best way to carry a heavy backpack?

Backpacks are the most efficient way to lug school books, but the weight of a backpack and the way you carry it can lead to back pain, said Marcos Davy, a physical therapist at U18 Sports Medicine in Coral Springs, an affiliate of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. "A backpack more than 10 percent of a student’s body weight leads to an increase in disc compression, altered muscle activation and abnormal spinal curvatures," Davy said.

Some tips to ease the load:

  • Bags should weigh no more than 10 percent of a student’s body weight.
  • Both straps should be used to avoid uneven weight distribution on the spine.
  • Bags should be positioned at mid-back level, slightly lower than shoulder blades.
  • Use lockers when possible to store books.
  • Bend at waist and knees when lifting bags.

What are the most nutritious foods to pack for school?

Donna Kinney, a dietician and nutritionist with Gordon Food Service in Miami, offers these tips for a healthy lunch:

  • Use whole foods when possible, instead of items like meal replacement bars.

  • Half-moon pita pocket sandwiches made with fresh fruit slices and peanut or sunflower butter are easy to pack, hold well, provide protein, complex carbohydrates and fat that will help kids stay focused throughout the day.

  • Cold whole grain tri-colored pasta or cheese tortellini salad can be made with chopped colorful veggies and garbanzo beans with a light dressing and crackers to provide another complete meal.

  • Whole grain crackers can be paired with a variety of individual cheeses that come in all shapes, colors and sizes to keep it fun.

  • Fresh fruit and vegetable sticks can be paired with low fat dressings/dips or cups of peanut butter.

  • Make trail mix from whole grain cereal, dried fruit and nuts. Golden raisins have four times the antioxidants of other dried fruits and add variety.

  • Choose beverages of value like 2 percent milk, 100 percent juice (not juice drinks) and Kefir (a yogurt beverage) or fruit smoothies. Again, these items can be purchased in bulk and portioned in insulated small containers for lunch.

Rebecca Carter, founder of

and a mom of two, follows a model called the Healthy Eating Plate, which is Harvard's version of USDA's MyPlate. It includes a fruit, a vegetable, a whole grain, and a protein.

"My kids don't do sandwiches, so they get a hot lunch," Carter said. A typical lunch is whole wheat pasta with chicken, baby carrots, mango and water to drink. "I recommend sending something you know your kids will eat and leave the veggies that take more convincing to when they are home with you."

How can I eliminate lunchtime waste?

Carter said she does away with packaging waste by sending drinking water in insulated stainless steel water bottles, and using insulated stainless steel Thermos containers for food.

(For a sandwich or other cold meal plus snacks, try the Ziploc Divided Rectangle containers, Carter says.)

"I have some inexpensive stainless steel forks and spoons that I put in, as well," she said. "They usually come home, but if they don't, I'm not heartbroken."

To eliminate food waste, Kinney offers these tips:

  • Pack lunches in an insulated bag with freezer blocks or a frozen water bottle to keep food looking fresh and at the proper temperature. No one likes tepid food or to open a drippy mashed item, especially in front of friends.
  • Instead of buying preportioned food items, prepare foods at home and put them in small containers or bags.
  • Dip sliced apples, peaches, pears or bananas lightly in lemon juice to preserve color and freshness.