As a dietitian, I don’t mind that lunch is my kids’ favorite part of the school day! As a mom, I do mind if the lunch I’ve thoughtfully planned and packed gets traded or trashed. Packing healthy school lunches that your kids will actually eat each day can seem like an uphill battle, but with a new plan and mindset, it can actually be fun! Including your kids in planning and preparing can teach them the importance of nutrition and can help them make good choices for the rest of their lives. Follow these tips to pack a lunch you can feel good about and children of all ages will love!
- Aim for balance by including at least three food groups. Think about main dishes with whole grains and protein, like sandwiches, wraps, salads or leftovers from dinner. Add sides and snacks that include fruits, veggies, and dairy.
- Have your kids help pick out the foods for their lunches to get them involved in the process. Consider making a special trip to the grocery store together to look for ideas and encourage them to try new things. Give choices, and let kids pick from the choices you provide.
- Serve a variety of foods! Anyone would get tired of having carrot sticks EVERY day, so keep it interesting by serving different options. Try picking a theme for each day, (meatless-Monday, tuna-Tuesday, finger-food-Friday…you get the idea) to have a general plan in place and avoid getting stuck in a rut.
- Switching up one aspect of a tired main dish can make it seem new. Try wheat mini bagels, wraps, English muffins, waffles or thins instead of bread to transform traditional sandwiches. Roll ham, turkey, and cheese together, slice, and skewer with pretzel sticks to skip bread altogether. Offer sandwich fillings like tuna, chicken, or egg salad on a bed of greens for added veggies.
- Small foods are easier for kids to handle, plus they’re just more fun! Cut sandwiches into shapes or offer bite-sized pastas like tortellini or gemelli. Chopped fruits and veggies are more likely to be eaten than whole pieces. Harmons’ chef-prepared fruits and vegetables are convenient when you are crunched for time!
- Make fruit and veggies more fun by creating kabobs with cocktail stirrers. Include a variety of colorful produce to add visual appeal and health. Have them help while you work on other parts of the meal.
- Most kids LOVE dip, so use that to your advantage! Serve cut fruits with low fat yogurt or peanut butter. Veggies are more fun with a dip like hummus, peanut butter, salsa, bean dip, or dressing.
- Kids don’t need sugary drinks with lunches. Let them pick a fun water bottle to use just for lunches. Offer milk, low in added sugar chocolate milk, sparkling waters or other unsweetened options.
- Ensure lunch boxes come home empty by including tasty extras or a surprise! Kids don’t need a dessert at every meal, but if you do include a treat, keep it small and balanced with the rest of the meal (for example, vanilla pudding with fresh berries). Or try non-food treats, such as stickers, fun pencils, small toys or trinkets, or just a nice note or joke.
What’s in your kids’ lunch boxes? We would love to hear your ideas!