It’s almost time for another school year, and for many parents that presents the challenge of trying to figure out what to pack in their children’s lunch boxes. Even boxes filled with loving care can contain cookies or chips or other easy, unhealthy options.
Dr. Mayrene Hernandez of UnitedHealthcare says a fun, healthy lunch doesn’t have to be time-consuming or stressful to put together. To begin with, include a variety of foods from different food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. Get your child involved in the planning and packing of their meals. When kids are engaged in the process, they are more likely to enjoy the foods they select. Follow these tips and tricks to packing a lunch that is sure to be a hit.
- Switch to whole grains. While shopping, look for 100 percent whole-grain bread for sandwiches, 100 percent whole-grain tortillas for wraps, and whole-grain crackers. Other examples include quinoa and brown rice. Whole grains have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and they will keep kids satisfied longer.
- Pack the protein. Foods with protein help kids stay full and focused. Make sure each lunch has a good source of protein, such as hard-boiled eggs, beans, nuts, nut butter, tuna, salmon, rotisserie chicken, edamame, or yogurt. Skip deli meats like salami and bologna, which are higher in fat, sodium, and preservatives.
- Make it colorful. Adding colorful fruits and vegetables can make a lunch look more appetizing, and these foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Spice up vegetables with a little bit of guacamole, hummus, salsa, or low-fat ranch dressing on the side to add flavor and fun.
- Keep them hydrated. Hydration is particularly important for children, as they have higher water requirements than adults. Besides water, more fun options include smoothies and low-fat milk. Skip the juice and soda.
- Add a small sweet treat. Kids love treats, and adding something small to their lunches gives them something to look forward to. Portion size is the key to not overdoing it on the sugar. Aim for less than eight to 10 grams of sugar per serving. Examples include chocolates that are at least 70 percent pure cocoa chocolate and natural fruit smoothies with plain Greek yogurt and almond milk.
- Minimize junk food. Foods like chips, fruit snacks, and candy have little nutritional value. Replace these foods with things like cheese, whole-grain crackers and plain popcorn sprinkled with parmesan cheese.