A parent who packs lunches for just one kid every day from kindergarten through seventh grade packs over 1,500 meals.Â That means 1,500 chances for your child to develop a taste for healthy meat-free foods.
Here are some tips to make bagged or boxed lunches interesting and nutritious:
- PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR KID’S LIKES AND DISLIKES. Include your child in the lunch planning process. If you insist on packing things they don’t like, they’ll trade them or throw them away.
- GO SHOPPING FOR IDEAS.Â Do your kids clamor for prepackaged meals in the supermarket? That’s because they’re targeted at kids. We bet you can make a better version at home. Try pairing a handful of sweet red grapes with some crisp, whole grain crackers and small squares of a good low-fat cheese. See how easy it is?
- THINK SMALL.Â Some kids may not be able to eat a big sandwich at one sitting. Consider a selection of small bites instead. Finger food is easier for children to handle and more fun to eat. So cut sandwiches into four squares, use cookie cutters to make small shapes, or look for smaller sandwich ingredients like cocktail rye bread or tiny tortillas. Serve baby carrots, small fruit slices and veggies on the side.
- LET DRINKS DO DOUBLE DUTY.Â Small gel packs are good for keeping packed lunches cool, but they’re one more thing to tote around. Why not include a frozen juice box instead? It will keep other foods cool and thaw to just the right temperature by lunchtime.
- PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD.Â Is your child likely to eat the insides of a sandwich and throw away the bread? Then skip the bread entirely. Cut meats and cheeses into interesting shapes and string them together on a popsicle stick to make lunch kebab.
- MIX IT UP.Â Munching on something crunchy is always fun. And it’s even better when sweet and savory mix. There are plenty of recipes for homemade snack mixes that include healthy ingredients like dried fruits, unsalted nuts, pretzels, and baked crackers. Have the kids help mix up a batch.
- GO SKINNY DIPPING.Â Bean dips, hummus, salsas, and nut “pates” can add variety to the lunchbox routine. Dipping and scooping is fun. Raw veggies and fruits have a ton of vitamins. Plus, whole grain crackers, pita chips or pretzels can add lots of fiber, too.
- STAY COOL . . . OR HOT.Â An insulated thermos is good for hot foods like soups or stews – and for cold soups or salads too. For best results, rinse out the thermos with very hot water to preheat it before adding hot foods. Rinse with ice water before adding cold foods.
- ROLL YOUR OWN.Â Cereal bars or energy bars can be nutritious, but many are loaded with sugar, salt and fat. Try making your own “energy cookies” with rolled oats, dried fruits, and nuts or nut butters.
- RESPECT TRADITION.Â Let’s face it, some kids just don’t like change. So if your child really wants the same thing day after day, go ahead and pack it. As long as the meal is nutritious and you are sure your child eats it!