As your child begins the new school year, it is time to pay close attention to what he/she is having for lunch. It is estimated that over 16 per cent of children are overweight and that percentage is on the rise. Parents greatly influence what their kids eat and encouraging healthy eating habits is more important now than ever.

Preparing nutritious school lunches and snacks is a challenge for many parents. Besides breakfast, lunch is the second most important meal for school-aged children and provides one-third of their daily calories. Yet, parents can often be confused about what a healthy lunch consists of when packing their children’s lunch.

One of the easiest ways parents can ensure they are packing a nutritious lunch is to provide a mixture of whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and lean meats. The quantity of food packed is also important since portion size is another factor that contributes to overweight kids.

The following are a few healthy school lunch and snack tips.

• Take kids shopping and have them pick out foods they like.

• Have kids help pack their lunch. Teach them how to pack a well-balanced lunch with appropriate portion sizes.

• Pack dinner leftovers for lunch. Use leftover chicken for sandwiches or pasta for a cold salad.

• Make sandwiches different by using breads.

• Use insulated lunch boxes and refreesable ice packs to help keep foods cold and fresh.

• Send hot vegetable or chicken noodle soup — use thermoses to keep hot foods hot.

• Choose healthier snacks such as fresh or dried fruit, veggie sticks or string cheese.