Whether you are packing lunches or preventing illness, simple steps can make a difference in your family’s health and well-being.

The start of the new school year can bring a flurry of activities to many families. That busy schedule does not have to mean a drop in healthy eating.

Avni Jain, MD, family medicine physician with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group’s Germantown office, says healthy lunches offer many benefits.

“Providing a healthy school lunch gives kids the energy needed for the rest of the day,” Dr. Jain said. “It also helps curb unhealthy snacking at the end of the school day and establishes good eating habits for the rest of their life.”

Packing Extra Nutrients in Your Lunch

Does the beginning of the school year make you cringe as you think about packing lunches? Try turning this daily activity from a chore into an opportunity to teach your kids about good nutrition.

“Helping your kids establish wholesome eating habits — along with encouraging them to exercise — can help them maintain a healthy body weight throughout their lives,” explained Elly Shaw-Belblidia, RD, a pediatric dietitian at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. “This reduces their risk of developing conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Including your children in the lunch-packing process allows you to offer healthy options and model nutritious eating with your own lunches.

“Your kids watch how you eat, just as they watch everything else you do,” Elly said. “If you set the right example, they are more likely to have good eating habits in the long run.”

Healthy Lunch Basics

A basic healthy lunch includes at least one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables, along with some lean protein and whole grains, Elly said. A healthy diet should include five servings of fruit or veggies daily. For packaged food and drinks, always read the nutrition label and choose the foods lowest in sugar, sodium and fat.

Watch out for hidden sugar in beverages. Two sugary drinks per day can double your child’s diabetes risk. For example, 6 ounces of apple juice can pack up to 21 grams of sugar — that’s more than an average candy bar.

Natural Peanut Butter & Jelly


  • 1 slice whole grain bread
  • 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
  • Sliced plum, peach or apricot


Spread peanut butter evenly onto the bread. Sprinkle with the sunflower seeds and place the sliced fruit on the seeds. Fold the slice of bread in half and place in an airtight bag or container to keep the fruit fresh.

Pack It or Ditch It?

Packing a healthy lunch doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, you can stick to classics like a natural peanut butter and jelly sandwich (see recipe on this page) with some healthy substitutions, such as fruit instead of sugary jelly.

Pack it:

  • Sandwich on whole wheat bread or pita with lean meat (e.g., turkey), low-fat cheese, and hummus, guacamole or mustard
  • Rice cakes or plain/low-salt popcorn
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Plain, nonfat yogurt that’s low in sugar
  • Water or milk from the cafeteria

Ditch it:

  • Sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise
  • Processed snacks, chips, cookies and candy
  • Yogurt with excess sugar
  • Sugary drinks like soda, juice or sports drinks
  • Lunchables™ or other prepackaged meals


Staying Healthy as School Begins

Richard Samuel, MD, medical director for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, offers parents tips to help keep kids healthy and prevent the spread of illness.

Wash Your Hands

Pencils, crayons, toys, desks and other objects can harbor germs and bacteria. Teaching children to wash their hands well throughout the day is an important way to prevent germs from spreading. “Washing your hands several times a day for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water can lower your risk of getting sick,”

Dr. Samuel said. Also, to prevent kids from bringing school germs home, make sure they wash their hands when they arrive home each day.

Stay Home

If illness strikes your home, help prevent further spread by staying home until you or your children are free of fever, vomiting or other symptoms for 24 hours. Extra rest from staying home will also speed recovery, Dr. Samuel added.

Clean Surfaces

Many contagious germs spread easily on common surfaces such as desks, door handles and tables. Cleaning these surfaces with sanitizing wipes or bleach helps prevent illnesses from spreading. One common item Dr. Samuel said most people forget to clean is their cell phone. “Cell phones are often handled by the entire household, so it’s important to remember to clean them regularly with a sanitizing wipe,” he noted.

Get a Flu Shot

It is not too early for a flu shot. “The flu vaccine is still the best defense against getting the flu,” Dr. Samuel said. An annual flu shot is recommend for everyone, particularly young children, pregnant women and the elderly. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective, so don’t wait until the flu reaches your home.

Need medical care fast? Adventist HealthCare has you covered with three Emergency Departments and three Urgent Care Centers in Montgomery and Prince George’s County.