SYRACUSE, NY (WIVT/WBGH) – With the first day of school right around the corner, the American Heart Association is offering tips for parents packing lunches as their kids head back to school.

The association recommends that children eat a wide variety while consuming enough calories to support their development. Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of illness and premature death in men and women around the world and evidence shows the importance of heart disease prevention beginning in childhood.

“Kids and their families should eat foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat, choose a wide range of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients, and consume enough calories to maintain a healthy weight for their height, build and activity level,” said Lynne Shopiro, chief nursing officer at Crouse Health and president of the Syracuse Board of Directors of the American Heart Association.

Here’s some tips that parents are asked to take into account when preparing a school lunch:

  • Choose foods naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol, like fruits and vegetables. Most are naturally low in fat, calories, and sodium and high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • Swap peanut butter with added sugars and oils to one made with just peanuts.
  • Use lean meats. Choose fish, chicken, turkey and lean cuts of beef an pork.
  • Switch to fat-free milk. Gradually reduce the fat content of the milk your family drinks. Start with 2%…then try 1%…and finally fat-free milk.
  • Switch white bread to wheat bread.
  • Change juice boxes or chocolate milk for water (infuse it with fruit if they need a flavor boost).

According to the American Heart Association, “A nutritious, heart-healthy lunch, combined with daily exercise, will help set up every child for a year of optimal learning and development.”

For additional heart-healthy tips, visit www.heart.org/healthyliving.