Think outside the lunch box
Contrary to what some parents think, kids have good reason to be picky eaters. And while we want to encourage our kids to try new foods and eat what’s good for them, we also want to make sure they eat well at school. Being hungry won’t help them concentrate!
Basic School Lunch Guidelines
1. Include nutritious foods
Familiarize yourself with the food groups on the food pyramid or the new “MyPlate” recommendations. There is no rule that specifies which foods from these food groups you should send to school with your child. There is also no rule that says you must have something from each group in lunch. It’s not a bad idea to try to represent these groups in your child’s lunch, but if that’s not possible every day, then you can make up for what’s missing at either breakfast or lunch.
2. Include the foods your child likes
There’s no point in sending your child to school with a meal you know you won’t eat. Instead, consider the foods she likes and then find ways to send them to school. You may have to get a little creative sometimes, but with a little thought, you can find ways to pack them in. For example, if your child likes raw carrots, put carrot sticks or baby carrots in a bag and put them in the lunch bag.
3. Think outside the lunch box
Getting creative about school lunches means thinking outside of the usual lunchbox ideas. For example, my son liked a cucumber salad made with sour cream and vinegar (without the dill) and liked it on white bread, so I packed them separately and included a plastic fork and spoon to make his own sandwich. He got a vegetable, grain and dairy this way. Here are some other ideas on how to pack a nutritious lunch.
Choose whole-grain sandwich bread
Make sandwiches with whole-grain bread. If your child doesn’t like the grainy or heavy texture, try a brand with a lighter texture. On the other hand, some children prefer the heavier texture and even the chunks of grain in some whole wheat brands. Whole wheat bread is often sweeter than white bread, so some children prefer it.
Crackers and tortillas are a great alternative
If your child doesn’t like sandwiches, consider packing whole-grain crackers. This is an easy way to include cereal in your child’s breakfast. If your child likes tortillas, pack one or more. They can be fun to turn into “wraps” with the other foods you include.
Raw vegetables on the side
Some kids don’t like cooked vegetables but eat them raw. Raw vegetables are sometimes sweeter than cooked vegetables and have a completely different texture. Tasty raw vegetables include:
- Green beans
- Green peppers
- Cherry tomatoes (although tomatoes are technically a fruit)
Fruit as a lunch box Dessert
Most kids love fruit, so make sure you pack some. An apple may be nutritious, but if it ends up in the garbage, it won’t do them any good. A convenient option is to serve individual packages of applesauce or sliced fruit like peaches or pears. Fresh fruit is the best choice, but sometimes you can include a juice box. You can also slice the fruit and include a delicious fruit dip.
Dairy products for breakfast
The most obvious choice for a dairy product is a thermos of milk. However, there are other options, including:
- Cheese sticks or chunks of cheese
- Cream cheese
Lean protein for healthy kids
There are many sources of lean protein, from animals and vegetables, that are easy to pack into a lunch box, including:
- Deli lunch meat
- Chicken pieces
- Leftover dinner from the night before, such as roast beef
- Marinated tofu
- A hard-boiled egg
- A jelly sandwich made with French toast
How to pack a lunch
Are you new to packing a lunch for the kids? Here are some great tips to get it right the first time:
- Pack the sandwiches separately and let them put the sandwich on themselves so they don’t get soggy – or eat the items separately. This includes all condiments.
- Get an insulated lunch box to keep the food fresh and safe.
- Include a napkin and all necessary utensils! It’s hard to spread cream cheese on a cookie without a plastic knife!