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The healthy lunchbox

It's time that Sacramento starts influencing healthy eating habits in kids, such as having nutrition-based summer day camps where kids learn to grow, prepare, and eat healthier foods such as affordable fresh produce, especially for families priced out of being able to afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables in local food markets and not having a yard to grow vegetables. You can check out the abstract of a study, "Influences on Shopping at Farmers' Markets Among Low-income Women." Kids also can learn about nutrition and how healthier food affects the body in the short and long term. Kids are eating too many salty snacks and sugar or fructose-sweetened beverages on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day, whether it's at school, after school, or during snack times.

The healthy lunchbox.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

You see TV adds showing kids drinking milk sweetened with chocolate syrups, strawberry or caramel flavorings instead of getting daily familiar use of unsweetened beverages. That daily sweet taste hooks kids on a craving for sweets by letting their brains secrete hormones in the pleasure/reward centers of their brains that coaxes them to come back for more of the sweet taste to make them feel good. Eating unhealthy becomes a habit because kids start getting picky unless the food has a sweet taste like cookies and ice cream. And healthy foods just aren't that sweet. See, "Your Brain on Sugar - WebMD."

If apples cost a dollar a pound, but you can buy five dollar burgers at a fast-food eatery for five dollars, which will parents most likely buy to stretch the neighborhood food budget to feed the family? It's cheaper to open a can of tuna fish and dump it in a huge pot of cooked noodles, adding a can of cream of chicken or mushroom soup to make it taste salty and add a flavor to wipe out the smell of fish in the stove top casserole.

After all, Sacramento ranks high for urban gardening, according to news reports such as the article, "Sacramento ranks among best cities for urban gardening." Actually Washington DC ranks first, and Sacramento ranks as number five. Check out, "Sustainable Urban Gardens" or "Soil Born Farms In the News." So how does urban farming relate to a healthier lunchbox at school for Sacramento's kids and children across the country? See, "Analysis of Food References on TV That Target Young Adolescents."

The Healthy Lunchbox Challenge

The Healthy Lunchbox Challenge represents a low-cost, innovative way to influence the nutritional content of child and staff foods and beverages in summer day camps, known as "SDCs." Healthy Lunchbox Challenge helps influence healthy eating habits in children, according to a new study, "Healthy Eating in Summer Day Camps: The Healthy Lunchbox Challenge," published online January 21, 2014, in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Elsevier Health Sciences.

During the school year, 21 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches, yet less than 10% of those children participate in the Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program. This discrepancy places responsibility for food choices during the summer on parents. Previous efforts to improve the healthfulness of foods and beverages provided by parents have resulted in little to no improvement in the amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and/or water. See, "Top U.S. Cities for Urban Gardening."

You can listen to the audio podcast, Download MP3 here, where Falon Tilley and Michael W. Beets discuss the successful implementation of the Healthy Lunchbox Challenge, an innovative theory and incentive-based program, at four large-scale, community-based summer day camps. They observed significant increases in the amount of healthy food brought by children, as well as decreases in untargeted foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages and salty snacks.

The Healthy Lunchbox Challenge (HLC), is an innovative theory and incentive-based program, at four large-scale, community-based summer day camps

To address the issues of food selection and rapid weight gain among children observed in the summertime, a group of researchers from the University of South Carolina used summer day camps as a unique opportunity to influence food and beverage choices of the children attending. By implementing the Healthy Lunchbox Challenge (HLC), an innovative theory and incentive-based program, at four large-scale, community-based summer day camps, Michael W. Beets, MEd, MPH, PhD, and colleagues noted significant increases in the amount of healthy food brought by children as well as decreases in untargeted foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages and salty snacks.

The HLC is a low-cost program requiring minimal resources. In the current study, two intervention components were developed: parent and staff education, as well as an incentive program for children. For education, parents and staff were given the HLC mission and procedures, as well as, a guide to choosing healthy foods and beverages. Incentives, identified by the summer day camps, were distributed based on points accumulated by the children and staff for bringing fruits, vegetables, and water.

Half of the children observed were eligible for free or reduced price school lunches

Among the nearly 2,000 children observed, of which 50% were eligible for free or reduced lunch, researchers noted increases of 12% for fresh fruit, 11% for vegetables, and 14% for water brought, on average from baseline to posttest. Likewise, they observed decreases of 15% and 13% in the amount of chips and non-100% juices brought, respectively. For the staff, of which more than 200 were observed, researchers noted an increase in fruit and vegetables brought of 18% and 13%, respectively, and decreases of 31% for chips and 6.4% for soda.

"With over 14 million children attending summer day camps, introduction of the HLC can serve as a way to influence the eating habits of children during the summer," explains lead author Falon Tilley, MS, Department of Exercise Science, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, according to the February 18, 2014 news release, Healthy Lunchbox Challenge helps influence healthy eating habits in children. "These findings have important implications for summer day camps and other child care settings where there is minimal control over the foods brought on-site."

The researchers believe the HLC can be easily implemented in summer day camps and consequently influence the eating behavior of children. However, further research is needed to determine the success of HLC in other settings. Future research should also explore additional modes of education for parents and any other barriers to implementation. You also may be interested in looking at the abstract of another study, "Fruit and Vegetable Consumption of WIC Participants in Atlanta."