by Clarissa Camus
Now that the kids are back to school, one of the biggest challenges we parents face is making a healthy lunch for our kids. Sometimes kids think healthy isn't fun - and we parents feel healthy isn't easy. Healthy lunches can be fun and easy! Here are a few tips for packing healthy lunches that kids will actually eat.
Get Kids Involved. No matter what the age, studies show kids are more likely to eat the food they help grow, select, and cook. If you can’t shop with your kids, at least get their requests before you go to the grocery store. Have your kids come up with a “top 10” list of their favorite lunches. Talk with your kids about healthy eating choices. Make a food pyramid chart and have them cut out pictures from all of the food groups. Have your kids help pack up their lunch boxes in the morning so they don’t get to school and find an unpleasant surprise.
Say No to junk. This one can be a challenge, but it is possible to stay away from junk food and provide a healthy lunch that tastes great. Stay away from processed foods that are full of sugar, salt, and artificial colors and preservatives. This will cut down on hyper-activity and give kids longer lasting energy. If you must serve chips, find corn chips and potato chips that are cooked in non-hydrogenated oils (oils such as canola, sunflower, and olive oil are best) and are free from preservatives. There are some good options for baked chips and crackers that are now available. Find the pure peanut butter that doesn’t have added oil and sugar. Find jelly and jams that don’t have added sugar. Serve wholemeal brown bread instead of white bread.
Make it colorful. The visual appearance of food is very important to children of all ages. Kids do eat with their eyes and they make judgments about food based on the presentation. A simple peanut butter and jelly can be more exciting if rolled up like a jelly roll. Buy wraps and pastas that come in different colors and flavors such as red tomato and green spinach.
Use what’s in season. Try to include fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re in season. It will be better for your budget and kids will enjoy the fresh taste.
Children should eat a small fruit snack (fresh fruit only, no dried fruit or processed fruit roll-ups) at school. The results are amazing. Kids can concentrate on their work better after having one serve of fruit each school day. So send some apple or orange slices to school every day. (Tip: squeeze a little lemon over the apple slices - this will keep them from browning during the day!)
Getting kids to eat veggies is always a task. To make lunches more interesting and sneak a veg in, try sending various raw veggies such as sliced carrots and celery with different types of dips in a small airtight container.
Add sliced avocado, alfalfa sprouts, sliced cucumber and shredded carrots to sandwiches. The sandwich will have more "crunch," more color, and will taste much better.
Keep it bite-size. Eating at school often takes a bite out of kids’ play time. Children are often in a hurry to eat so they can run off to play. A great way to help make sure your child eats lunch is to make make lunch easy to eat by cutting up sandwiches, fruit, and veggies into small pieces.
Avoid soggy sandwiches. Soggy sandwiches are a big turn-off for kids. Try toasting bread. Send canned tuna with a pull top lid with a bread roll. Whole wheat crackers and cheese sticks are a hit with kids for lunch.
Prepare for extremes. In hot weather, an insulated lunch box with a frozen ice block can keep a child’s lunch cool all day. Ask your kids to try and keep lunches out of the sun. When cold weather comes, use a Thermos for soups, pastas, chopped up noodles, and fried rice.
Be creative - variety is the spice of life. Try a variety of foods so lunches aren't boring. Use different meats (chicken, turkey, beef, pork) as well as seafood and eggs. Also try a variety of veggies, and different types of breads (sandwich slice bread, bread rolls, buns, bagels, croissants). If you’re really adventurous, try sending some international food – smoked salmon and cucumber sushi or soft chicken tacos can be a nice change for lunch.
By adding a little variety, planning ahead, and getting kids involved, you can make kids school lunches a lot more healthy, interesting, and fun!
Note: This article first appeared as Lunch Ideas for Kids on the Sprout for Parents website.
Clarissa Camus is the founder of Easy Kids Recipes (www.easy-kids-recipes.com). Her website includes articles, cooking tips, a free newsletter, and lots of kid-friendly recipes.
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