Pack a Healthier Lunch

Packing a healthy lunch is simple. But packing a healthy lunch your child will eat can be a challenge.
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You sacrificed sleep to get up at the crack of dawn and make your child's lunch. And you expect that your child will eat it. No wonder you're upset when most of it comes back home that afternoon. What is the secret to packing a good lunch that your child actually will eat? "You and your child need to work together as a team," says Jodie Shield, R.D., the mother of three and author of an upcoming book on feeding school age children. "Agree on a lunch that is a combination of healthy foods that you approve of and fun foods that your child will eat. If your child has favorite foods, such as pretzels or squeezable yogurt, go ahead and pack them. If he prefers leftover chicken legs, cold pizza, or single-serve boxes of cereal, send those instead of a more typical lunch."

Shield also recommends occasionally including treat foods like cookies, chips, or bite-size candy bars. "But be sure to pack only a small amount, so that your child doesn't fill up on the treats and skip the rest of his lunch."

It's important to find out what your child liked and didn't like about her lunch, suggests Sandy Nissenberg, R.D., author of Brown Bag Success: Making Healthy Lunches Your Kids Won't Trade. "Think creatively to come up with other foods that she might eat, like pasta or soup. Offer fun foods like fruit or vegetable and cheese kebabs, cream cheese and jelly rolled in a tortilla, or peanut butter with pretzel rods to dunk. As long as your child eats a variety of different foods, it doesn't really matter whether or not they are traditional brown bag items."

To many parents, nutrition is the biggest challenge. Shield complains that lunches from home are getting worse. "Parents pack way too much food. Children in elementary school typically do not have big appetites. They also don't have much time to eat. When you give your child too big a lunch, they may just eat their dessert and chips and then throw the rest of the lunch away." Shield also is seeing more prepackaged lunches, which tend to be high in fat and sugar, and missing several important food groups. "A nutritious lunch should include one small portion from each of the five food groups -- grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and high protein foods like meat, chicken, and tuna, and it should supply no more than one high fat and/or high sugar item like chips, cookies, or candy," advises Shield.

Kids love to trade foods in their lunches. What should you do? Unfortunately, many of the foods children trade for are less nutritious than the foods they trade away. And unless your child's school bans trading, it is difficult for you to control. "Offer to include one treat food to trade away, but discourage your child from trading his entire lunch," says Shield. "If you've packed a lunch with his help, he will be more likely to eat it."

Continued on page 2:  The lunch bunch


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