What do you pack for nutritious and tasty lunches? Trying to get out of the house on time with backpacks in hand seems challenging enough. Healthy, well-proportioned meals, including lunch, not only feed the body, but also the mind. Several scientific studies have found that the effects of hunger, even temporary hunger, like skipping a meal, can affect your child’s attention span, ability to concentrate and cognitive performance. According to the American School Food Service Association, fourth grade students who had the least protein intake in their diets had the lowest achievement scores.
Here are some simple, healthy lunchbox ideas that don’t require refrigeration. To avoid choking, remember to cut your child’s food into bite-size pieces and don’t give preschool age children chips, uncooked carrot sticks, broccoli or other difficult to chew foods.
Peanut butter in a pita, cheese cubes, applesauce
Mini bagels with pizza sauce and cheese, melon pieces
Mild salsa and chips, cheese sticks, cut grapes
Bran muffin, small yogurt, strawberries
Soup in a thermos, peanut butter on a mini-bagel, cantaloupe pieces
Tortilla wrapped around cheese sticks, cucumber sticks and dip, plum
Hummus on pita bread with sprouts, carrot sticks, blueberries
Cheese and apple slices on cinnamon raisin bread, yogurt
Turkey cubes, crackers and cheese, apple slices
Mini rice cakes with cream cheese, broccoli, cheese chunks
Peanut butter on banana bread, yogurt, peaches
Soup in a thermos, crackers and cheese, box of raisins
Cream cheese bagel, celery and carrot sticks and dip, orange wedges
It looks simple and easy, but you’re thinking, “My child will never eat food that healthy.” How can you encourage your child to eat what’s in their lunchbox even when you’re not at school? Read more to learn tips for getting your child to eat, quick packing ideas and using your child’s lunchbox as a “kid connection.”
Getting Your Child to Eat
Given the array of prepackaged convenience foods, it’s often hard to get your child to make healthy lunchbox choices. The best way to encourage your child to eat healthy is to make them a part of the shopping and choosing experience. Let your child make soup, bread, sandwich spreads and fillings and fruit and vegetable choices.
It’s also important to pack the right amount of food. Most parents pack too much food in their child’s lunchbox and children tend to eat the “sweet stuff” first. Although it’s often more expensive, many individual serving foods like pretzel sticks, applesauce, cheese sticks or cubes, vegetable dips and yogurt are healthy, easy to pack and attractive to children because of the packaging.
Try making gradual changes to pack a healthier lunch. You can pack the usual sandwich and add vegetables and dip instead of chips or put in half of the child’s usual sandwich and add half of something new. Try white bread on one side and whole wheat on the other.
When making food choices for your child or guiding them to make their own healthy choices, be aware of food allergies. Speak to your pediatrician before serving anything new like peanut butter or strawberries, especially for children under a year.
Soup choices: lots of good canned soups, look for low salt
Bread choices: whole wheat, muffins, crackers, English muffins, bagels, mini-bagels, raisin bread, rolls and tortillas
Filling choices: peanut butter, cream cheese, apple butter, hummus, American cheese, mozzarella, turkey, ham
Vegetable choices: carrot sticks, cucumber slices, green beans, tomato wedges, broccoli, celery
Fruit choices: apple wedges, banana, orange slices, melon pieces, applesauce, peaches, small plums, pineapple chunks, kiwi slices
Drink choices: milk, water, 100% fruit juice
Learning menu alternatives is helpful, but actually getting the food packed and out-the-door can be the real challenge for busy parents. Shop for the week. Invest some time cutting all the fruit and vegetables for the week. Refrigerate in individual serving size bags. Avoid pre-cutting apples, pears, and bananas that turn brown easily. Although the fruit is still good to eat, kids just don’t seem to like brown food.
Making the lunch the night before really is helpful. Try preparing your child’s lunch after dinner when the kitchen is already a mess. Put the whole lunchbox in the refrigerator. In the morning, grab and go! School-age children can make their own lunches. Remember to do a quick lunch check to make sure they actually put food in there.
Lunchbox Extras and Kid Connections
School-age children don’t always have a chance to wash their hands before lunch, so throw in a wipe. All children, with the exception of infants, need a napkin, and young children enjoy colorful party napkins. Use your leftover birthday or holiday napkins as a lunchbox treat.
Make a “kid connection” with your child by adding a lunchbox note for them or a picture for your pre-reader. Pre-readers enjoy a letter, shape or color of the day drawn on an index card. You can also cut out magazine pictures or drop in a photo your child can put their fingerprints all over. For readers, print messages for the month on your computer cut them into small notes and add a handwritten signature. Lunchbox notes can include words of encouragement, including, “I know you’ll do great on your spelling test,” or reminders like, “Pick you up for karate after-school” or even simple love notes saying, “You’re a great kid!”