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 in the process can go a long way in preparing a healthy, balanced — and enticing— school lunch.
Here are six tips and nine recipes (see box) designed to help pack a colorful, creative, healthy and yummy lunch for your child. The following tips were provided by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life dietitian Katherine Shary.
Get kids involved in the planning process.Let kids decide between healthy options you provide. Parents can ask questions such as, “Would you like to have carrots or celery in your lunch tomorrow?” This lets kids feel like they have a say in what goes into their lunches, and you get to curate what those options are.
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Make their lunch appealing. Pack lunches in bento boxes or compartmentalize with reusable cupcake liners. “It’s fun for kids to see their food in these cute compartments and it helps parents remember to pack a variety of foods from all of the food groups: protein, grains, veggies, fruit and dairy,” said Shary. “It also helps parents avoid getting stuck in a packed-lunch rut because the compartments encourage you to get creative and take advantage of items you already have in the fridge, including leftovers from dinner.”
Keep it balanced. 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. Shary said many small packs of prepackaged fruit snacks contain about 3 teaspoons of sugar, which is the maximum amount of added sugar the American Heart Association recommends for a child to eat in an entire day. Whole fruit such as grapes, mandarin oranges, and bananas are colorful, packable alternatives filled with nutrients that can help your child stay fueled up for the school day, she said.
Rethink the drink. Go with milk or water. 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 four or more hours before lunchtime, and they store their lunch in a locker that is outside in the heat. A simple packed-lunch hack Shary suggests is to freeze a clean, wet sponge in a sealable plastic bag to use as an inexpensive ice pack. Or 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.
9 Healthy, Yummy Kids Lunch Ideas provided by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life
1. Pasta salad lunch with whole-wheat pasta with Italian dressing, cherry tomatoes, lightly cooked broccoli (fresh or frozen), lightly cooked green beans (fresh or frozen), along with cheese, two hard-boiled eggs and melon.
2. Homemade Lunchable with low-sodium turkey lunch meat, cheese, whole-wheat crackers along with cooked green beans (fresh or frozen), apple slices and nut or seed butter.
3. Chicken and guacamole with rotisserie chicken, a mini guacamole to-go cup, whole-wheat pita slices, carrots and grapes.
4. Nut/seed butter cracker sandwiches with 10 whole-wheat crackers (five cracker sandwiches) along with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, bell peppers, strawberries and blueberries.
5. Deconstructed tacos with ground turkey or beef with taco seasoning, shredded cheese, tomatoes or salsa, lettuce, a mini guacamole to-go cup along with watermelon.
6. Chicken salad lunch with whole-wheat crackers, bell peppers and apple slices.
7. Ham and cheese roll-up made with low-sodium ham and string cheese, along with pita, hummus, celery and a banana.
8. Leftover pasta lunch with tortellini with marinara and meatballs, along with a fruit cup packed in water or 100 percent fruit juice (not syrup) and cold cooked broccoli.
9. A chicken wrap with a whole-wheat tortilla, rotisserie chicken, cheese, spinach or romaine lettuce, cucumbers, and ranch dressing along with blueberries and raspberries.