Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but lunch runs a close second. Studies have shown that children who eat a well-balanced lunch often do better in school and are more alert, so I’m sure that applies to us as adults outside of the classroom, too! Whether you have school-age children or not, we could all benefit from kicking our lunches up a notch on the healthy scale. I hope the following list gives you some fresh ideas!
- Always choose whole-grain or whole-wheat bread. If your kids won’t eat the crusts, that’s OK–trim them off. It’s more important that they’re eating the sandwich.
- Toss air-popped popcorn with cinnamon and sugar for a sweet treat or sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese. It’s a great whole-grain snack.
- Whole-grain crackers that are low in fat and high in fiber are a good substitute for bread for little mouths. Kids love the crunch. Send a few pieces of cheese so kids can create their own mini sandwiches.
- Instead of bread, try a whole-wheat tortilla for a sandwich. Roll one up with low-sodium deli meat, cheese and honey mustard.
- Whole-wheat pretzel sticks are crunchy and fun for kids. Make sure the version you buy lists “whole wheat flour” as a primary ingredient.
- Use what is fresh and in season. Seasonal fruit tastes better and is also cheaper.
- Make fruit easy for kids to eat. Segment oranges and core apples and pears (use lemon juice to keep them from turning brown). Cut up large pieces of fruit into smaller pieces.
- Offer dried fruit like raisins, cherries or cranberries.
- When buying canned fruit, make sure it’s packed in 100% fruit juice rather than syrup.
- Instead of jams and jellies, make a peanut butter sandwich with banana slices, raisins or berries.
- Offer a handful of seedless grapes in a bag with a wet paper towel for sticky hands. (The wet paper towel also comes in handy after eating an orange.)
- Cut raw veggies into bite size pieces and serve them with a dip. In addition to ranch, try peanut butter or another nut butter, pesto, salsa, hummus or guacamole–whatever you kids will eat.
- Add shredded vegetables to sandwiches and soup.
- Either provide money for your child to buy milk or include a small carton of shelf-stable milk in every lunch.
- String cheese or a few cubes of cheese are a great way for kids to get calcium and protein.
- Freeze a small container of cottage cheese or yogurt. Add it to his lunchbox and it will be thawed by lunch.
- If your child will only drink chocolate milk, allow it. It’s better than drinking no milk at all.
- If your child isn’t a fan of meat, that’s OK. There are plenty of ways to get protein into his or her lunch. It’s very important to include protein, because it will help keep your child fuller longer. As long as your child is old enough to eat nuts and there are no allergen concerns, experiment with various forms of nut butter. Beyond peanut, there’s cashew, almond, sunflower, soynut and even hazelnut butter.
- Eggs are another great source of protein. Include a hard-boiled egg (peel it first) or a couple of deviled eggs (made with low-fat mayo or hummus).
- If your kids are fans of tuna, egg or chicken salad, sneak some veggies into it. Minced carrots, celery, zucchini and even cucumbers mix well. In addition to regular sandwiches, these salads make great dippers for whole-grain crackers and raw veggies.
- Hummus or black bean dip is full of filling fiber and protein. Like the salads mentioned above, it’s great in sandwiches or as a dip.
- Disguise protein as a treat by mixing nuts with dried fruit and just a few chocolate chips for an easy trail mix.
A homemade “Lunchable” I made for my son, Christian, last week!