When you’re always on the go, packing school lunch is sometimes last on your list. Don’t let lunchtime get stale! Use these simple tips to make lunch fun but most of all healthy.
1. Leftovers it is.
Every kid I know has 3 or 4 favorite meals that hit the spot at dinner time. If your child loves taco night, make extra to pack for the next day’s lunch! Just don’t forget the veg! Easy vegetables to add include corn, red pepper, and shredded lettuce.
2. Don’t cook it, buy it.
If you want to pack kid-friendly treats that are healthy, look for replacement ideas for all their favorites. It’s easier if you swap one item at a time. Try low-fat yogurts instead of pudding, part-skim mozzarella sticks instead of American or cheddar cheese, whole grain crackers and cookies instead of white processed items, and mini bottles of water or water mixed with 1/4 cup of juice instead of high calorie sugary sodas. Avoid processed pre-packed lunch “boxes” for kids that contain loads of fat, sugar, and salt.
3. Don’t let them miss out.
Vegetables, crucial to your child’s growth and overall health, seem to be the toughest thing to get kids to eat. Try cutting raw veggies into shapes or sticks. Pack mini containers of their favorite dips like low fat blue cheese dressing, BBQ sauce, ketchup, or low-fat honey mustard. Make vegetables a part of every meal no matter what!
4. Dairy that isn’t scary.
Milk can be a large source of saturated fat in your child’s diet. Choosing fat-free milk instead of whole or 2% milk can keep children’s hearts healthy and arteries clear by cutting out 5 grams or more of saturated fat per cup! This also goes for cheeses. Make their next cheese sandwich high in protein but lower in fat with 2% cheese.
5. Be lean with their protein.
Switch from ham, bologna, salami, pastrami or corned beef, and other fatty luncheon meats to low-fat choices. Supermarkets have many good tasting, low-fat brands that are made from healthier meats such as “turkey” bologna. I used to pack these favorites all the time when I worked for families as a private chef. Kids really do enjoy them, even the pickiest eaters didn’t notice!
6. Nature’s dessert is the sweetest.
Include fruit in every lunch. Try buying a few new types of fruit for variety. Kids love berries but if fresh berries are out of your budget buy frozen ones and mix them in with yummy vanilla yogurt instead. In addition to apples, oranges or bananas, try pears, sliced melon, grapes, cherries or fresh pineapple. Try a fruit kebob by threading fruit onto plastic toothpicks.
7. Contain it.
Are you on a budget when it comes to packing school lunches? The easiest way to save is to invest in some fun, colorful containers that kids love and are easy to wash and reuse. Buy a sports bottle in their favorite color and fill it every morning. Smaller containers are best and will keep fruit from getting crushed and sandwich bread soft and fresh.
8. Let them pack it.
Get your kids involved without making it a chore for you. Have them pitch in in small ways like wrapping up their favorite sandwich, package fruit or vegetable sticks, and choose from a healthy selection of drinks. Managing your child’s lunch expectations and getting them involved will not only teach them about nutrition but will also make them feel that they can make their own choices about food!
9. Seeing is eating.
Kids are very visual. If it looks fun or cute, many times they will try it! It only takes two extra minutes to make it fun or learn how to make it healthier. Use a cookie cutter and cut the sandwiches into fun shapes. You can eat the crusts and scraps for breakfast with your tea or coffee like I use to do. Go whole wheat. Most kids who haven’t had whole wheat products get nervous when they see seeds, whole grains, or texture differences in bread and pasta. However there are many whole grain products in supermarkets that are tender, soft, and light in color. Learn more about whole grains.
10. Get ahead and make it ahead.
So many parents tell me that their kids are hooked on certain lunch items. Peanut butter is definitely a favorite, however it happens to be very high in fat – which can be a problem if consumed on a regular basis. Make a healthier version of the peanut butter they love. Mix 1/2 cup of non-fat, plain yogurt with a cup of creamy peanut butter and use as a smear or dip. It will store in the fridge for up to 3 days.