Even though my children have left the nest for college and beyond, I still remember the quality of the food offered in school lunchrooms. It’s so tempting to take the easy road and succumb to just letting them survive on what the school cafeteria offers. Making lunches entails coming up with ideas for healthy food that can last the day in a lunchbox and hopefully not come home unopened. However, it’s a comfort to know that you have supplied your children with healthy nutritious food that they like. The great news is that we live in a time of endless options.
Growing children need to make sure they are getting all the nutrients they need for building cells, bone growth, robust immune system, and supplying all the energy they need. Essential macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, fats, and fiber. Micronutrients include calcium, iron, fiber, folate and other B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin A. It can be a challenge to get all the required foods into picky eater’s bodies, but it can be done. If you are stuck for ideas, try some of the following ideas.
Cutting vegetables into bite-size pieces makes it more fun. Choose cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, mini cucumber slices, and sliced celery hearts. Add single-serving containers of hummus for your protein. Dessert can be fruit skewers (strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe).
Kids love bite-size foods. Make some turkey meatballs and give them some pretzel sticks and a couple of sauces they can use as a dip. Add a serving of high-protein Greek yogurt and supply a variety of fresh mixed fruit and some granola crumbles. Note: It’s way healthier to use fresh-cut fruit as an addition to yogurt in lieu of the fruit bottom choices which are high in sugar.
Make an apple and almond butter sandwich. Slice apples lengthwise and brush with lemon juice (to keep from browning). Fill with almond or cashew butter. A handful of mixed nuts and some carrot sticks will complete the meal.
Whole grain pasta primavera salad with cherry tomatoes and green beans. A hard-boiled egg and a side of edamame will make this a protein-rich meal. Watermelon and kiwi slices will add a sweet and hydrating finish.
Meal #5 If the evening meal is something that can fare well in the lunchbox, this is a great time-saving option if your child doesn’t mind leftovers.
Extras: Granola bars (low sugar), bananas, and trail mix are excellent add-ons to the meal. And don’t forget to keep your child hydrated with filtered water.
Finally, don’t forget to pack a little love while you’re at it. Children love to get special notes from their parents that give them a little encouragement and motivation to get through their day. Even a simple smiley face will be put a smile on the face of your little one.
Dr. G’s lunchbox tip: Always involve your children in the process as is age-appropriate. Toddlers can be given choices, and older children can pack their own lunch. The more involved they are, the more likely they will eat their lunch.