Lunch often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of getting kids off to school in the morning. You may prefer to give your child money for lunch rather than pack a midday meal. But it's worth reconsidering bag lunches because they often far healthier than standard cafeteria fare.
To make sure your child actually eats the healthy lunches you provide, try this advice from Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, a Boston-based nutritionist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and the mother of three boys.
"The most nutritious lunches include foods from at least three food groups, but that doesn't mean children must have the traditional sandwich, fruit, and milk for good health," says Wright. As long as youngsters eat a balanced and varied meal, it's perfectly fine to pack hummus, whole-grain crackers, and yogurt or leftovers from last night's dinner every day, as well as sandwiches.
The key is to respect your child's eating style and preferences. Some kids derive comfort from eating the same foods day in and day out while others balk at it. Work with your child, Wright says, and your child is less likely to drop lunch in the playground trash bin.
Get Kids Involved
Allowing children to choose and prepare their own lunch piques interest in the meal and makes it more likely kids will eat their own creations. Let your young child help make lunch the night before school for greater ease in the morning. You can help guide your children to the proper portions and healthy choices of whole grains, protein, and produce. Keep in mind, most elementary school-aged children are allowed a midmorning snack. Account for that when considering the amount of food you provide for lunch.
Make sure you have healthy fare on hand for your child to choose:
Whole-grain breads or crackers
Peanut and almond butters
Light canned tuna fish
Raw vegetables that can be cut into slices
Encourage the kids to make sandwiches with whole-grain breads or bagels; tortillas; or colorful wraps. Try different sandwich fillings, such as tabouli mixed with feta cheese in a pita pocket, or a veggie burger.
For even greater buy-in, Wright recommends these simple steps:
Let your children pick out their own lunchbox.
Consider insulated lunch bags with room for a small freezer pack that allows you to send foods that must be kept cold, such as dip for fresh vegetables, yogurt, and orange juice.
Or use larger lunch bags to avoid squishing foods.
Have on hand small sturdy plastic containers for cut fruit, vegetables, dip, and lunch foods other than sandwiches.
Practical Lunch Tips
A sandwich made with lean meat, light tuna fish, or peanut butter and jelly; fruit or vegetables; and milk or 100% juice is a fine meal for a growing child's lunch. You can boost nutrition and tantalize a child's taste buds by adding shredded carrot, chopped celery, or water chestnuts to egg salad or tuna salad. Combine chopped grapes with diced chicken and mayonnaise for a tasty chicken salad. And don't forget this popular standby: Add a sliced banana or apple to peanut butter sandwiches.
Here are some other yummy and easy lunches that use foods from at least three of the food groups:
Tortilla wraps with shredded cheese, chopped chicken, and cut vegetables
Egg salad, whole-wheat bagel, and fruit
Whole-grain roll with butter or margarine, 2 hard boiled eggs, and carrot sticks
8 ounces of low-fat yogurt, whole-wheat crackers, and fruit
1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter, whole-grain crackers or bagel, and fruit or vegetables
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese or hummus, whole-grain crackers, and cherry tomatoes
Bean-based soup or stew in a thermos, whole-grain roll with butter or margarine, and dried fruit
1-2 slices leftover thin crust cheese pizza and fruit or vegetables