Packing Fun, Nutritious Lunches for Your Kids
Packing a healthy lunch box can be challenging for busy families that are constantly on the go. The good news is that a healthy lunch can be uncomplicated, and meal prep can be fun for parents and children.
“One of the best ways parents can encourage healthy eating is to include their children in shopping and prep,” said Haley Sawtell, Clinical Dietitian with Wayne UNC Health Care. “Let your child make choices about soup, bread, sandwich fillings, fruits and vegetables.”
Sawtell also suggests:
- Planning lunches for the week: “This would be a great way to ensure meals are nutritious and well put together,” said Sawtell. “You can save time in the morning by doing some prep the night before, cutting vegetables and putting them in resealable baggies so it’s easier to grab and appealing to the eye.”
- Covering all five main food groups: A colorful lunch box, made up of a grain, protein, fruit, vegetable and dairy product or calcium rich item not only makes for an appealing lunch, said Sawtell. It’s also more nutritious.
- Including children in lunch prep: “One example of a way to have children help could be by making fruit kabobs together, combining pineapple or kiwi chunks, strawberries, watermelon or cantaloupe chunks and orange segments – or any variety of fruit you know your child will enjoy,” she said. “They can be eaten by themselves or with a little Greek yogurt, honey and cinnamon.” Vegetables like cucumbers, zucchini and cherry tomatoes can also be made into kabobs and paired with a small container of hummus.
- Making lunch fun: Children, like adults, often eat with their eyes, said Sawtell. Finding fun ways to showcase the meal, such as by using clear sandwich bags, a bento-box style container, using silicone muffin cups or cutting sandwiches with cookie cutters are some ways to make the meal more appealing.
Some ideas for lunch box meals include:
- Mini bagels with pizza sauce and cheese or peanut butter, and melon pieces
- Mild salsa and chips, red and green pepper sticks, cheese sticks and cut grapes
- Bran muffins, small yogurt and strawberries
- Soup in a thermos and cantaloupe pieces
Some easy healthy snacks include:
- Fresh or dried fruit
- Cheese sticks
- Yogurt (plain with honey)
- Carrot and Celery sticks with Hummus
- Tomatoes and Cucumbers with Greek Yogurt
- Pretzel sticks
- Trail Mix
For children under four years of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents avoid packing foods that are round, hard, small, thick, sticky, smooth or slippery, due to the potential choking hazard.
“Quick and easy is the name of the game,” said Sawtell. “These tips can help you make gradual changes toward a healthier lunch.”