By: Alex Pinchot, ND
Creating a healthy lunch that your kids will eat is a challenge most parents face. Giving your kids easy categories to fill and the independence to pack their own lunch will go a long way towards helping them eat healthier lunches. Here are some ideas on how to make their lunches healthier and your life easier.
Let them pack their own lunch:
Most kids are capable of packing their own lunch if we set them up for success. Work with your kids to make a list of lunch options that they like. With this new list, go shopping with them. This is a great time to talk about healthy options and creating a balanced meal. Have a limited number of lunch options available on shelves that they can reach in the pantry and refrigerator. This allows your kids to have a choice but not get overwhelmed.
Kids feel empowered by having choices and are more invested in healthy eating if they get to choose what they are packing. Start by working with them, then move to being available while working on something else in the kitchen. This will be more work in the beginning but imagine the day when your kids make their own lunches before bed and don’t complain about what is packed.
Pack by food group:
By breaking down food into categories it’s easier to always have healthy options for your kids to choose from. Teach your kids about basic food groups and have them pick something from each group to ensure a well rounded diet.
Protein and fat:
Protein and fat are fuels that burns longer and should be part of a child’s main course. Examples include nut butter to dip apples or carrots into, lunch meat in a sandwich, edamame with olive oil and salt, hummus or yogurt.
Vegetables and fruit:
Vegetables and fruit are not only a good source of vitamins and minerals but provide fiber to help kids feel full longer. This can be carrot sticks, apple slices, grapes, cucumber slices, broccoli or salad. Not all kids will eat salad at school but most kids have one vegetable that they like. Try things like ants on a log (celery with nut butter and raisins), dips to helps make vegetables more fun or shredded carrots to improve the texture.
Pick whole grains for the carbs in your child’s meals, this can be rice with soy sauce, whole grain bread in a sandwich, or whole grain crackers. The fiber in whole grains allow for a slower digestion without the associated spike and crash in blood sugar.
Having a place for each food group will help your kids with portion sizing and make thing feel more organized. There are a lot of options for food containers and it is important to pick ones that your kids can open. Bento boxes and stacking tiffin carriers are fun but simply having small tupperware containers work well too. Letting your kids pick their own containers can be another way to help your kids get excited about packing there own lunch.