Get off to a healthy start this school year by packing nutritious lunches that your kids will actually want to eat. Think you’re too busy? Relax. All it takes is a little planning and creativity. A healthy lunch gives kids the energy they need to finish the school day and be ready to tackle homework and after-school activities. Read on for tips on filling your child’s lunchbox with healthy, tasty meals that even the most finicky kid won’t be able to resist.
1. Small changes add up. If cafeteria food, prepackaged lunchables, and snack cakes are on the lunch menu of choice in your family, take heart. It is possible to steer your kids toward healthier choices, one baby-step at a time. By making small, gradual changes you can give your kids a big boost of nutrients. Aim for less fat, sugar, and calories and focus on increasing fiber, protein, and calcium. The next time you fill their lunchboxes, try these simple substitutions:
|Instead of:||Substitute with:|
|White bread||Whole wheat bread|
|Processed lunch meat||Leftover grilled or roasted chicken or other lean meats|
|Potato chips or fried snacks||Popcorn or whole-grain crackers|
|Prepackaged cakes or cookies||Homemade cookies or muffins|
|Fruit-flavored drinks or soda||Milk, water, or 100% fruit juice|
2. Get the kids involved. Kids who have a say in the foods they eat are more likely to finish their meals and make healthier choices. And getting ’em hooked on a nutritious diet at an early age will build lifelong healthy eating habits. Encourage your kids to help with shopping, menu planning, and preparing their lunches. Ask them what they like, and if it’s not healthy, brainstorm with them for healthy alternatives to their favorites — suggest leftover soup or chili in a thermos.
3. Variety is the spice of life. If sack lunches have gotten mundane (peanut butter and jelly again?), try thinking outside the [lunch]box. Offer kids a BLT or tuna salad, or fill a whole-grain bagel, pita, or tortilla with their favorite sandwich fillings. Kids love to crunch. Instead of potato chips, try celery sticks filled with peanut butter or cream cheese and bite-size chunks of raw veggies like carrots and cucumber with low-fat dip. Make a kid-friendly homemade granola out of dried fruits, nuts, and any favored non-sugary cereal.
4. Mini is huge. Kids love any kind of food in small sizes and portions because it’s fun to eat and can be consumed quickly. Experiment with mini bagels filled with cheese, lean meats, or their favorite veggies and spreads. Popular mini foods include cubed cheese with whole-grain crackers, and mini muffins. Toss seedless grapes, strawberries, and cubed melon for a mini fruit bowl. Cut whole sandwiches in quarters or jazz them up by using cookie cutters to turn bread and cheese slices into their favorite shapes and characters.
5. Handle with care. Pack school lunches in insulated lunch bags, which are sturdier than paper bags, and are better at maintaining temperature control. Be sure to include a freezer pack to keep perishable foods like meat and dairy from spoiling. Some lunch bags even come with separate compartments designed to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Use a thermos for hot foods like leftover spaghetti, soups, or even stir-fry.