For many families, back to school often involves new resolutions to be more organized and get more sleep.
But the Main Line Health Heart Center has another suggestion: How about a lunchbox makeover aimed at increasing the chances your family's hearts will remain strong and healthy for years to come?
Dr. Herman Movsowitz, Main Line Health cardiologist and co-director of the Women's Heart Initiative, says that making small changes in menu choices can make a huge difference in a family's long-term heart health.
"Contrary to popular opinion, healthy eating does not require a lot of time or money, but it does require attention to detail. Fortunately, nutritious, healthy food is plentiful in grocery stores and most restaurants — if you know how to find it," he said.
One of the best ways families can reduce their risk for developing cardiovascular disease and other heart conditions is to eat less junk food, and add more nutritious foods to their daily diet. Yet in today's time-starved world, the importance of eating healthy meals is often overlooked.
To help make this goal easier throughout the school year, Movsowitz recommends 10 simple tips to jump-start your family's "makeover":
· Aim for each member of your family to eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 21/2 cups of vegetables daily. Produce is packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other essential nutrients, and it's virtually fat- and cholesterol-free.
· Pay attention to portion sizes and preparation methods; for example, grill instead of deep-fry.
· Try to eat fish at least twice a week. Research shows that eating fish such as salmon, trout and herring — all of which contain omega-3 fatty acids — may help lower your family's risk for coronary artery disease.
· When packing school lunches, make sandwiches with whole-wheat bread. Chicken and turkey are good, lower-fat choices; as spreads, use mustard, veggie tapenades or raw avocado. Be sure to pack some baby carrots or grape tomatoes, as well as a piece of fruit. Drink nonfat milk in place of water sometimes.
· Choose better staple items, including poultry, fish and the leanest cuts of red meat. Grass-fed, free-range and organic meats are preferable.
· Cut back on high-fat foods, especially anything with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans-fats or saturated fats. Use canola or olive oil for cooking and greasing purposes. Limit cakes, cookies, pastries, muffins, pies and doughnuts.
· Prepare foods with little or no added salt. Aim for each family member to eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
· Don't shop while hungry, bring a list, and stick to it.
· Shop for foods that are close to their natural state, like fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Canning these items requires heat, which destroys vitamins and incorporates too much salt.
· If you must order fast-food meals, do your homework by studying the nutritional guide available at most restaurants and make wiser choices. Try salads with nonfat or low-fat dressings — or better yet, none at all — and fruit-and-yogurt plates.
Avoid sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, punches, sports drinks and juices.
"Although you may be tempted to change your family's entire diet overnight, gradual changes like these are easier and more effective," says Movsowitz.
"Most importantly, small, incremental food changes are much more likely to become a permanent part of your life — and have lasting benefits," he concluded.