ISELIN, NJ – As students get into the swing of school and their days fill with tests, friends, homework and activities, it’s easy to overlook nutrition.

However, many studies link healthy foods to increased mental, physical and social performance. Marilyn Gordon, market medical director for United Healthcare, offers some tips and advice for parents looking to pack a healthy school lunch.

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. “Parents should make sure they have all the ingredients on hand and, if possible, make lunches the night before to make the morning a little less chaotic,” Gordon said.

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2. Include at least three food groups to provide filling, energy boosting nutrients throughout the day. Variety also ensures that kids won’t get bored with their lunches. Gordon recommends choosing from whole grains, lean or low-fat protein, fruits and veggies and a treat with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.

“Food is fuel, but junk food with high sugar content decreases energy levels, attention spans and memory,” Gordon said. “As for long-term effects, junk food and sugary drinks put your child at risk for developing obesity and diabetes.”

3. Pack school lunches with your kids. “When kids are engaged in the process, they are more likely to help pack a meal they will eat and it’s a great teaching opportunity for parents,” Gordon said. “In addition, they will pick foods that are familiar to them and foods that they like.”

4. Make it colorful. “Adding colorful fruits and vegetables can make a lunch look more appetizing, and these foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber,” Gordon said. “Spice up vegetables with a little bit of guacamole, hummus, salsa or low-fat ranch dressing to add flavor and fun.”

5. Plan for snacks, too. “Snacks are okay before dinner, as long as they are small enough to satisfy hunger and boost energy,” Gordon said. “Some of the best energizing snacks that won’t interfere with appetite before dinner include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and lean- or low-fat protein. Stay away from sugary, high calorie, high fat or high sodium snacks.”

To make packing lunches easier, Gordon recommends the following lunch options:

-Grilled cheese a ‘la waffle – Use a waffle iron to create a whimsical version of the standard sandwich that can be enjoyed at room temperature. Serve with grapes, carrot sticks and 100% fruit juice.

-Veggie quesadilla – Use whatever veggies you have on hand layered between a whole grain tortilla with cheese and cook quickly to melt the cheese. Serve with apple slices and low-fat milk.

-Hard-boiled egg-on-a-stick – Pair with popcorn, fruit slices to dip in a container of Greek yogurt along with a few cherry tomatoes and bottle of water.

-Roll it up – Roll up string cheese, a slice of lean ham, red bell pepper slices and baby spinach in a whole grain wrap. Serve with 100% fruit juice and a few strawberries.

According to Gordon, the tips above can contribute to a student’s school performance, socialization and energy.

“Healthy lunches will provide key nutrients that boost energy and concentration during school, resulting in healthy bodies and healthy minds,” she said.