How to make kids’ lunches safe, healthy and fun

Nutritious and delicious are words that seldom go together in a kids’ vocabulary, let alone in their lunch boxes.

Parents pack carrot sticks. Kids want pretzel sticks. Whole wheat bread is not as sweet as white bread. And the dessert meant to be last is usually picked first at lunchtime.

It is not enough to pack a nutritious lunch and hope your kid will eat it.

“The best thing to do is get kids involved. Ask them what tastes good and what is socially acceptable — what works for them in a lunchbox,” said Rachel Riddiford, MS, RD, LD and clinical nutrition manager at Dayton Children’s. “The child may like a banana at home, but by lunch may really hate it.”

Kimberly Oswalt, RD, LD and Wellness Center/Cardiopulmonary Rehab dietitian at Miami Valley Hospital, also stresses the importance of kid input.

“Before you pack your child’s lunch, let them go grocery shopping with you. Have them pick out healthy foods they enjoy. If they pick out the foods, they are more likely to eat what is packed,” Oswalt said.

The school’s menu can also help a child get involved.

“If your child’s school provides meals, sit down and go over the menu with your child. If your child doesn’t want to pack every day, have your child pick one or two days when they will eat their favorite school lunch meals,” Oswalt said. “Use the menu as a teaching tool; teach your child about foods that are healthy.”

Together you and your child can create a healthy, packed lunch from a variety of foods by keeping these guidelines in mind.

Oswalt recommends parents and kids include one food item from six categories: lean protein (low-fat lunch meat or peanut butter); dairy (low-fat cheese slices or cubes, yogurt or milk); whole grain (pasta, air-popped popcorn, whole grain crackers or bread); vegetables (baby carrots, cut-up celery or broccoli); fruit (fresh sliced apples, grapes, berries, oranges or canned fruit in its own juice or no-sugar-added or dried fruit); and a beverage (100 percent fruit juice, water or low-fat milk). An optional dessert or snack item like graham crackers, low-fat pudding, trail mix or granola bar can be included.

“Pack leftovers from the night before. Who says pizza can’t be healthy? Have your child help you make mini pizzas the night before. Consider using pita bread, English muffin or a tortilla for the crust. For more fiber and nutrients choose whole wheat over white. Top with pizza sauce, low-fat mozzarella cheese and veggies,” Oswalt said.

To round off this lunch recipe, Oswalt suggests including a bottle of water, no-sugar-added applesauce, celery sticks and a dip like peanut butter.

Once the nutritious choices are agreed upon, keeping them safe is the next step.

“By the time lunch rolls around the food has been at room temperature too long,” Riddiford said.

“Be sure to wash out lunchboxes regularly. Consider throwing in a moist towelette so your child can quickly wash their hands before eating and clean up afterward,” Oswalt said.

“Also, be sure to check with the school to make sure that there aren’t any restrictions on what kids can pack in their lunches.”

In addition to packing a nutritious lunch to please their little one and ensuring food safety, parents have to understand lunch “time.”

The actual lunch period may be short, and kids might be more interested in talking or getting onto the playground than eating.

“Make sure everything they eat is good for their health and for their brain. If you pack this really nutritious lunch and a dessert and your child only eats the dessert, cut out the dessert or limit the amount of food packed,” Riddiford said.

“You have to be realistic. Prepare a bigger breakfast and provide a more nutritious snack after school.”

Source :