Parents—especially those who send their children to school with packed lunches—are re-examining their menu options to find ways to encourage healthy eating and improve nutrition.
Making delicious, fun, nutritious and satisfying lunches every day for your children can be a daunting task. But lunches made at home have advantages. No one knows your child’s nutritional needs like you do, so by putting together a noontime meal, you can ensure any special dietary needs are met. Packed lunches also let you tailor the menu to fit your child’s schedule. Phys ed class today? Include a lean, protein-rich turkey sandwich. Test this afternoon? You may want to avoid heavy carbs that can cause an energy drop after lunch.
Despite what many people think, kids will eat healthy lunches. Like so many things, good habits begin at home. If your children eat fresh, non-processed food at breakfast, dinner and for snacks, they won’t be surprised by the wholesome food in their lunch bags.
Following are a few easy lunch tips to keep your kids well-fed and on the road to excellent eating habits:
- Reinvent the PB&J. Peanut butter contains protein that provides energy. For a healthier sandwich, substitute the jelly with spreads or jams, which contain real fruit. Add variety by replacing the jelly with raisins, or fresh banana, apple or pear slices.
- “Produce” a great lunch. There are many fabulous veggies—carrots, celery, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli – that are nutritious and tasty eaten raw. I fill a container with carrots and celery every day for my two kids, ages 9 and 11—and they eat them. Protein-filled legumes, from chickpeas to edamame, power kids throughout the day.
- Freeze that fruit. Freeze fruit the night before to keep other food in the lunch container cold through the morning. By lunch hour, the fruit will have thawed and be ready for eating. Almost any fruit can be frozen including watermelon, strawberries, honeydew, mandarin oranges, pineapple, cranberries and apples (go with sliced vs. whole apples).
- Make age-appropriate meals. Much of the emphasis today is about children who eat too much. But growing kids need calories, so it’s just as important to avoid portion sizes that are too small. Appetites in both girls and boys surge around the time of puberty, for instance. Regardless of age, kids need balanced meals with food from all the major groups.
- Consider ditching the sandwich. There’s nothing wrong with bread; in fact there are “kid-healthy” white breads that are packed with vitamins and calcium, making them great options along with whole-grain varieties. But salads, vegetable pitas and even veggies with high-protein dips like hummus can deliver excellent nutritional value.
Once you’ve begun to broaden your child’s food horizons, you may want to monitor the nutritional content of the lunches you’re packing. There are many excellent calorie counters online; you’ll find one at www.tossed.com/design-your-own. Just click on the combination of foods and ingredients going into your kid’s lunch, and the nutritional facts are automatically calculated in a chart.
Eric Clark is Chief Operating Officer of Tossed®, a nationwide chain of restaurants serving garden fresh salads, crepe wraps and sandwiches. He also packs lunches for his two children, ages 9 and 11, every morning.