Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but lunch runs a close second. Studies have shown that children who eat a well-balanced lunch often do better in school and are more alert. It can be difficult to get a child to eat, even when they’re at home. But while they’re at school, you have to up your game to make sure your carefully packed lunch doesn’t end up traded or trashed. Here are a few tips to help kids be happy and healthy at lunchtime:
- First of all, remember that it’s not your lunch. If you pack broccoli, and your child hates it, they won’t eat it. Let your kids weigh in on what they want to pack in their lunches, and offer them a few healthy choices so they feel like they’re in control.
- Avoid pre-packaged, processed foods for your kids’ lunches. They might seem tempting with their convenience and kid-friendly sizes, but they are also expensive and loaded with sodium and preservatives.
- Make a smarter sandwich. Always choose whole grain or whole wheat bread, but feel free to mix it up with whole wheat tortilla wraps or whole wheat pita pockets. Besides lettuce, try shredded carrots or avocado slides with turkey or lean roast beef.
- Include protein. If your child isn’t a fan of meat, that’s okay. There are plenty of ways to get protein into their lunch. It’s important to include protein because it will help keep your child fuller longer. As long as your child is old enough to eat nuts and there are no allergen concerns, experiment with forms of nut butter. Beyond peanut butter, there is cashew, almond, sunflower, soynut and even hazelnut butter. You could also include a hard-boiled egg in their lunch, or make a tuna salad. Hummus or black bean dip is also full of filling fiber and protein.
- Think outside the lunchbox. Did your kids love last night’s roasted chicken and vegetables? Pack some in a thermos to eat the next day. Pack leftover meatballs into a whole-grain hotdog bun for a sandwich. Mix leftover rice and vegetables and top with chunks of pork or chicken.
- Skip the chips. Try healthier side options like cheese sticks, whole grain snack crackers, dried fruit, fruit salad, nuts, baby carrots and vegetable dip, or low-fat yogurt.
- Don’t forget the drink. Water, milk and 100 percent fruit juice are the healthiest drink options to pack with a lunch. Avoid sodas, energy drinks, and fruit-flavored juice pouches, which can quickly decrease the nutritional value of your child’s meal.
- Be safe. Pack lunches properly to ensure food safety and freshness. Invest in a reusable ice pack to keep perishables cool, a thermos to hold warm foods, and a variety of different sized containers.
Check out my Pinterest board here for some great recipes/checklists, packing tips and my favorite brands of lunchboxes.