In just a few weeks, parents everywhere will take up the challenge of packing healthy school lunches their children will actually eat – not trade, pitch or leave behind in a dash for recess.
“It’s not as hard as you might think,” said Lindsay Bailey, MS, RD/LD, a pediatric clinical dietitian at Akron Children’s. “You want to involve your kids in the process, and give them choice. That can make all the difference.”
While sandwiches are always an easy and reliable go-to option, Bailey demonstrated a few different entree ideas – peanut butter and banana “sushi,” make-your-own mini pizza bagels, and deli roll-ups.
All 3 are variations of sandwiches using whole wheat flatbread, whole wheat mini bagels or, in the case of the deli roll-ups, no bread.
“Think about presentation and letting kids assemble their own meals in the cafeteria,” said Bailey. “Finger foods and dips are great. It’s okay to let kids play with their food. If it’s fun to eat, they are more likely to eat it.”
A growing number of children like hummus, a tasty dip or spread and good source of protein. It can be paired with veggies or crackers. Low-fat ranch dip is also popular and may be the best way to get some kids to eat their veggies.
Bailey encourages parents to involve children in the meal process, from grocery shopping to helping prepare and clean-up meals on a regular basis.
As for lunch, the goal is to give kids choice – within boundaries. You don’t want them choosing too many snack and dessert options.
A good way to do this is to make the entree and then have 3 bowls on the kitchen counter. The child can pick 1 item from each bowl.
Fill the first bowl with apples, oranges, grapes, or other fruits. Fill the second bowl with vegetable options, such as bagged carrots or celery sticks, grape tomatoes and pepper strips.
Fill bowl 3 with healthy snack and dessert options, such as baked chips, popcorn, nuts, pretzels or small cookie packages. Choosing an item from each bowl along with their entree makes a well-rounded meal.
If your child doesn’t eat meat, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a classic (you can cut them into shapes for variety) or rely on nuts or dairy items, such as yogurt or cheese cubes for a protein source. Don’t forget to pack a re-freezable ice pack.
Children appreciate those little extra touches as well. Some parents routinely include stickers, cartoons, riddles or jokes in the lunchbox.
A hand-written, “Have a good day” note on a napkin may be an especially welcome reminder from home during times of transition, such as the first days of school.
Peanut Butter and Banana “Sushi”
Spread peanut butter over one side of a 100% whole wheat flatbread. These are rectangular in shape. Lay a peeled banana at one end and roll it into a wrap. Slice it into bite-size pieces or include a plastic knife so your child can cut it at lunch time. He may also want to dip the pieces into vanilla nonfat yogurt. Serve with a fruit ka-bob.
Options: Add nuts, raisins and honey to the wrap. If you can’t find the whole wheat flatbread, use a whole wheat flour tortilla.
Make-Your-Own Mini Pizza Bagels
Several food companies market make-your own pizzas. Here’s how your kids can pack their own for less money and better nutrition. This is the perfect lunch for a Bento-box style container or any plastic dish with several compartments.
Pack a mini whole wheat bagel (separated), a few tablespoons of pizza sauce, and shredded or sliced low-fat mozzarella cheese.
You can also include any of the following items: diced peppers, sliced mushrooms, pepperoni, diced onion, diced tomatoes and olives. Don’t forget to pack a plastic knife or spoon to spread the sauce.
Wrap a slice of lean turkey, ham or roast beef around 2 to 3 pieces of low-fat string cheese. You can also include a little bit of honey mustard for dipping or spread it on the deli meat before rolling it around the cheese.
Pack with crackers, pretzel sticks, baby carrots and a fruit cup for a well-rounded lunch.