You want to pack a healthy, appealing lunch for your kids every day. Problem is, it’s easy to fall into a lunch rut. Who hasn’t eaten the same turkey sandwich every day for a week?
Experts say planning ahead and getting your kids involved into the process can go a long way in preparing a healthy, balanced — and enticing— school lunch.
Here are six tips and nine recipes designed to help pack a colorful, creative, healthy and yummy lunch for your child. The following tips were provided by Keith Kantor, a Norcross nutritionist and experts with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life:
Keep balance in mind. When you are packing lunch, make sure to include protein, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. Limit processed grains and empty calories like cookies, crackers, and juice. If your child likes dessert, Kantor suggests something small like a square of dark chocolate. Processed foods and sugary treats will leave your child with a spike in blood sugars, providing a quick burst of energy followed by a drop in blood sugars, making them want to sleep in class.
Make their lunch appealing. Pack lunches in bento boxes or compartmentalize with cupcake silicone reusable “cups.” These work great for children who love to eat finger food like grapes, carrot sticks, cheese squares, trail mix, hummus or a sandwich. This is like a mini-appetizer plate or a protein box that is sold at coffee shops. (It can also work well for older teens and even adults at work, in the car or at their desk).
Get kids involved in the planning process. Let kids decide between several healthy options. Parents can ask questions like “Would you like to have oranges, grapes or bananas in your lunch this week?” and “Which flavors of yogurt would you like?” This lets kids feel like they have a say in what goes into their lunches, and you get to curate what those options are.
Rethink the drink. Healthy beverages. Although juice boxes are very popular, fruit juice can contain as much sugar as regular soda. Water is the best beverage choice.
Make sure you keep the lunch at a safe temperature. This step is often overlooked. Always pack the lunch in an insulated lunch bag or box with one or two ice packs depending on how big the lunch is. Sometimes kids have 4 or more hours before lunchtime, and they store their lunch in a locker that is outside in the heat. CHOA suggests freezing a clean, wet sponge in a sealable plastic bag to use as an inexpensive ice pack. Another idea: freeze a plastic water bottle (pour a little out first because it’ll expand) to keep lunch cool and give your child an ice-cold drink.
Personalize it. There’s nothing as special as an opportunity to add a little personality to your child’s lunch. Use cookie cutters to turn sandwiches, cheese, fruits and veggies into fun shapes. Draw a smiley face on a banana or orange peel. Or leave a special note for your child in his lunchbox. It’ll make your child’s day.
OUTSIDE OF THE (LUNCH) BOX IDEAS
A Twist on PB&J: (two slices whole-grain bread, 1-2 tablespoons of all-natural almond or cashew butter and all natural fruit spread, or better yet real berries. Add to lunch an apple, serving carrot sticks and two tablespoons of hummus for dipping.
Lettuce Wraps: Fill lettuce with with nitrate-free deli chicken or turkey, tomatoes, spinach, one ounce of cheese and mustard (optional). Round out lunch with one cup of chopped melon, one-fourth of a cup of nuts or homemade trail mix.
Yogurt parfait: Combine 6-8 ounces of Greek yogurt with a half of cup of all natural granola and one-half cup of berries. Add five celery sticks with all natural peanut/almond or cashew butter and raisins (which is called ants on a log).
Pasta salad: Make the pasta with whole wheat pasta and add fresh veggies such as bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli. Add a hard boiled egg and a fruit cup packed in 100 percent juice or water.
A healthier, cheaper version of the pre-packaged lunch packs: Instead of buying the ones at the store on grocery store shelve which can be chock full of additives, unhealthy fats, salts and sugars, make your own by packing low-sodium deli turkey slices, reduced fat cheese, whole-grain crackers, grapes and baby carrots in a sectioned plastic container.
Veg Out: Fresh veggies (like cucumber, carrots or bell peppers) with hummus, whole-grain crackers or rice cakes. Also pack grapes.
That’s a wrap: Turn your leftover baked chicken and veggies (like lettuce and tomato) into an easy lunch by wrapping them in a whole-wheat tortilla. Add a banana, low-fat yogurt.
Layered salad: Pack salads in tall plastic containers by layering a little dressing on the bottom, toppings in the middle, and lettuce or spinach on top. Just shake and eat.
DIY combination: Have your child assemble the lunch by selecting from the following categories: protein, such as nitrate-free lunch meat; boiled eggs; Greek yogurt; fruits and vegetables, such as apples, grapes, carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes; and healthy fat like avocados, nuts and nut butter.
For all of the recipes above, nutritionists suggest packing either 1 percent milk or water to drink.
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