Packing a Healthy Lunch for Kids
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Packing a Healthy Lunch for Kids

Do your children's lunches provide the nutrients they need?

Pressed for Time

Q. "Although I try to pack a healthy lunch for my 7-year-old daughter every day, we do not always have time in the morning. I have spoken to several parents with the same problem. What suggestions do you have for us to help encourage our children to select more nutritious foods when they have to buy lunch at school?"

A. You're right to recognize the importance of children eating a well-balanced lunch, especially when they're at school. A healthy lunch will help your child perform well and pay attention in class for the rest of the day. It also gives children the energy they need to participate in after-school activities. At the same time, kids often are tempted to indulge in less nutritious meals and snacks, especially when they are away from home. While all foods can fit into a healthy diet, children need to be taught which foods to select. School lunches and lunches packed by your daughter at home can teach her this responsibility. Fortunately, recent studies show that children most often cite their mothers as their diet and health role model. Your daughter is more likely to choose a healthy meal in the cafeteria if she is regularly given healthy foods at home. As a parent, the most important thing you can do is set a good example. In addition, schools across the county are reviewing their cafeteria menus to offer more healthier-for-you food choices. All of which will help your daughter learn how to make the best decisions about which foods fit her own needs.

Nutritious Lunch Ideas

Talk with your children about their favorite healthy foods and be sure to keep them on hand as often as possible. If healthy food is easily accessible at home, your children are more likely to want a homemade lunch, or even to pack their own.

Here are some ideas:

  • Packages of precut vegetables, like celery or carrots, and finger fruits like grapes are great for midday and after-school snacks. Cherry tomatoes, sliced green and yellow peppers, and cauliflower are excellent options too. You might consider making a special yogurt-based dip together to spice things up. There are so many delicious fruits and vegetables -- insist that your children eat (not just bring) one serving a day in their school lunch.
  • Granola bars are another nutritious snack, especially for kids who play sports after school. Look for a bar with under 200 calories and lots of grains.
  • Homemade pasta and vegetable salads make a satisfying lunch. Make a large batch over the weekend and store it in several small plastic storage containers so they're easy to grab on the way out the door. Dress the salad with a light Italian dressing, or fat-free mayonnaise, or even a tomato-based sauce. These salads can also make a light dinner on busy school nights.
  • Sandwiches are an easy standby. Tuna or chicken salad is easy to whip up the evening before, and you can vary the salad by adding red onions, celery, or dried cranberries.
  • Deli meats are also an easy sandwich solution. Keep good mustard and cheese on hand, and perhaps some roasted red peppers or pickles to add some heft to the sandwich.
  • Remember to buy whole wheat bread for sandwiches -- it's the healthiest option available.
  • Avoid buying potato chips, canned sodas, packaged cookies and desserts, and other sugary or fatty snacks.
  • Coach your children on portion sizes. If they insist on taking dessert, for example, give them two or three cookies, not four or five.
  • Find low-fat alternatives to high-fat foods. Pretzels and Smart Food popcorn are delicious and healthy alternatives to potato chips.