Teaching children about food and nutrition from a young age is crucial towards their health and well-being. A healthy diet can help children concentrate and learn at school, while also reducing their risk of developing obesity in years to come. Let’s commit to starting off the school year right and packing healthier lunchboxes for our kids.
Here are a few simple tips that can make healthy lunches fun and nutritious:
Healthy Bento-Box Style Lunch
Purchase a bento-box style reusable container that has separate compartments for food. Make sure the container is dishwasher-safe, durable, and made with non-toxic materials.
Start with a lean protein such as rolled up turkey slices or Babybel cheese wheels. Next, add a complex carbohydrate like seed crackers or rice cakes. Fill one compartment up with your child’s favorite veggie, such as baby carrots, sugar snap peas, sliced cucumbers or tomatoes. Then, include one serving of fruit such as a mandarin orange, apple slices, berries or a few grapes. Last but not least, add one “fun” food such as a piece of fun-size candy or a few animal crackers. This will ensure that all of the food groups are covered in an enticing way.
When it comes to lunch, kids tend to like a lot of variety since they can get bored with food easily. Sometimes, just changing the presentation of food can be enough to entice your child to eat a healthy lunch. Try using a cookie cutter to create fun shapes with any sandwich. Plus, a cookie cutter helps to seal the sandwich and can make it easier to eat without falling apart.
Another fun idea is making sandwich sushi rolls. Simply fill a whole-wheat wrap with low-sodium turkey breast, spinach and one whole string cheese. Wrap tightly, and then slice like you would with sushi. This makes lunch more handheld and easier for kids to eat during school.
Introduce Fun and Healthy Drinks
Instead of sugary soda and fruit juice, have your child pick out a fun reusable water bottle that may entice them to drink more water. Set an example at home by keeping a pitcher of water on the table at all meals. Add some fresh cut fruit for an infused water option (you can also purchase an infuser pitcher and start this practice at home). If your child insists on having some type of sweet beverage with lunch, try introducing a healthy drink such as naturally flavored seltzer, coconut water or organic chocolate milk. Keep an eye out as many juice brands are coming out with lower-sugar alternatives, such as Mott’s Sensibles.
Use these tips to help guide you in creating healthy school lunches, and don’t forget to get the kids involved. Have your child help pack crackers for lunch or grab an apple out of the fridge, so they too can contribute to one of the most important parts of their day. This provides a teachable moment to talk about portion sizes and healthy choices, while also helping your child learn how to navigate the kitchen. Your kids might come up with some fun school lunch ideas, too.
Stefani Pappas, MS, RDN, CDN, CPT, is a Clinical Dietitian Nutritionist at St. Francis Hospital. She also provides private nutrition counseling at her office in Great Neck, NY. Visit her website www.stefhealthtips.com for more information or call 516-225-1745 to schedule an appointment.