It’s that time of year when parents are asking: How can I pack a healthier lunch for my children?
Well, here are some ideas that will help parents pack healthy lunches for their children, and for themselves, too.
Sandwiches are a popular option, but can be made healthier when following these pointers:
- Use 100 percent whole wheat or multi-grain bread; 100 percent whole wheat pita pockets; or, 100 percent whole wheat tortilla wraps. Be sure to read the labels to find the ones that are lowest in saturated fat/trans fats.
- Skip the chips. Instead, pack popcorn, pretzels or whole grain cereal trail mix (see recipe).
- Add an apple, orange, tangerine, natural applesauce, fruit cup or dried fruits.
- Include veggies: Lettuce, shredded carrots, avocado slices (avocado is great with turkey or lean roast beef).
- Cheese: Buy store brand blocks of low-fat, low-sodium cheeses. Slice it yourself to save money, or use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes.
- Instead of lunchmeat, enjoy some leftover grilled chicken, lean pork or an egg white salad sandwich.
Be sure to keep your sandwiches fresh and safe by packing them with an icepack or frozen water/100% juice pack that can thaw by lunchtime.
Also, remember that size matters. Children need smaller portions depending on their size, age and activity level. so you measure in tablespoons, quarter-cups, half a sandwich, etc. For example, toddlers need tablespoons, not cups. Cutting sandwiches into quarters makes lunch more interesting, and kid-size.
Instead of sandwiches, leftovers are another quick, easy and inexpensive lunch option.
You can use a thermos to keep your foods safe, as well as hot or cold. Some good options include low-sodium soups such as tomato, vegetable or bean; chili made with lean ground beef or turkey; whole wheat spaghetti with low-sodium tomato sauce; or low-sodium baked beans, bean casserole, or beans and rice mix.
Of course, most people enjoy a snack. Here are some ideas for for healthy afterschool snacks:
- Apple or pear slices to dip into low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt or peanut butter
- Carrots, celery, or colorful sweet bell peppers cut into fun shapes or strips to dip into hummus or salsa
- Whole grain crackers (Be sure to read the labels to find those lower in sodium, saturated and trans fats)
- Slices of grilled low sodium tofu (a soybean product) to dunk into low sodium vegetable or tomato soup
- Unsalted sunflower seeds
Here’s another thought. Get your kids involved in making their own lunches.
When children help pack their own lunch, they are much more likely to eat that lunch and not to trade it or throw it away.
You can help your children plan their lunches for the week, and then you can build a new list for the next week, and them combine lists for future weeks, and so on.
You can teach your children about good nutrition and give them healthy choices, as well. Take them to the store as you shop and let them pick items to add to their lunch.
Have them help you make lunches the night before school, to save time in the morning.
You can store lunches in the fridge, so it is just grab-n-go during the morning rush to get out the door.
You can help your children develop good habits that will last them a lifetime.
For more guidance, visit MyPlate.Gov.
This column was adapted from the following two sources: The American Heart Association – How to Pack a Healthy School Lunch and FDA – 4 Tips for a Healthy and Stress-Free Lunchbox.
Healthy Homemade Trail Mix
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup sunflower seeds
1 cup mini-pretzels (1 cup)
1 cup whole grain toasted oat cereal Os
1 cup (or more) toasted corn, rice, wheat, multi-bran or combination cereal
1 cup low-fat granola
Measure ingredients into large bowl. Stir to mix.
Portion into snack bags to add to lunchbox or grab a bag after school for a pre-portioned snack.
Published August 17, 2016