Tips for packing nutritious school lunches your kids will really want to eat

Still, some parents prefer sticking to the non-perishables, which means temperature control is less of a concern.

“Choose cherry tomatoes or carrot sticks and whole fruits like apples, grapes, bananas, dried or packaged fruit over fresh cut fruit,” Frankeny said. “The stand-by bags of crackers, pretzels and popcorn work, too. Water and soy milk or juices in aseptic boxes don’t need refrigeration until they’re opened.”

It’s also important to check with the school to make sure that there aren’t any restrictions on what kids can bring in their lunches. Some schools have a “no nut” policy, which would rule out peanut butter sandwiches.

Let kids help

“If children feel they’ve had a hand in creating their own meal, they’re much more likely to eat it,” said Leslie Turner Bures, president of B Healthy Meals in West Cornwall Township.

Try taking them along to the grocery store to teach them about healthy food choices and have them help assemble a sandwich or place items in their lunch box.

Sarah Glunz, MS, CNS, LDN, an in-store nutritionist at Giant Food Stores in Susquehanna Township, recommended that parents talk with their child about their lunch each day to discover what they liked and disliked and also whether or not they felt full and satisfied.

“I met with a family once who didn’t realize their child was buying two chocolate milks every day at school,” said Glunz. For $ 20 she offers an hour-long nutrition consultation, which includes a grocery store tour and a $ 20 Giant gift card.

Include a balance

“If you picture MyPlate, it has five different sections—fruits, veggies, grains, protein and dairy,” Glunz said. “We should strive to create the same balance in a lunchbox.

Parents can stuff most of the food groups into a sandwich or wrap or mix them into a salad. For example, whole wheat wraps with turkey, cheddar and apples include four of the major food groups in one, Bures said.

“Try to stay away from processed packaged foods and beverages that are high in sodium, sugar or saturated fat,” she added. “Instead, opt for low sugar foods, lean proteins and healthy fats.”

Make it easy

Keep in mind children might only have 15 to 20 minutes to actually sit and eat their food.

“Try to include items that are peeled, cut and ‘ready to eat’,” Bures said. “Keep packaging simple and easy to open such as plastic containers with snap on lids or re-sealable plastic bags.”

“I use these for ranch dressing, granola, grapes, M&Ms or chocolate chips … basically any small snack item. It’s not worth it to buy expensive containers because chances are they’ll get tossed in the trash or left in the cafeteria.”

Frankeny suggested parents stick with 10 staple lunches and rotate through them. That kind of routine helps standardize their shopping list and leaves wiggle room when creativity strikes.

Mix it up

If sandwiches are losing their appeal, try a twist to deliver the same great nutrition. For example, instead of bread, sandwich protein, veggies or fruit between crackers, rice cakes, whole grain waffles, pita pockets or tortillas. Swap out peanut butter for almond or sunflower seed butter and replace jelly with bananas, chopped apples or other seasonal berries, Glunz said.

“Exposing kids to a wide variety of healthy food choices at an early age helps their taste buds develop so they will enjoy new and different foods as they grow up,” Bures said.

At the same time, some children don’t do well with change and using a packed lunch to introduce new foods for the first time could backfire. If they want the same thing day after day go ahead and pack it, Frankeny said. If you know that the lunch is nutritious and your child is eating it, there is no harm in sticking with the old stand-bys.

Drink dos and don’ts

According to Frankeny, sugary drinks have “empty calories” without any nutritional value and contribute to dental cavities and childhood obesity.

“Anything made with real fruit and natural ingredients is always a good idea,” Bures said. “If you can get your children to drink water…please do it.”

Watch beverages with high fructose corn syrup and sugar such as chocolate milk, soda, lemonade, sweetened iced tea, and some sports drinks, Glunz said. Instead stick to water, low-fat milk and 100 percent juice.

“If your child loves chocolate milk, make this a once a week treat,” she said.

Add some fun

Keeping things fun will encourage children to dig into their lunch box each day. Try cutting sandwiches into shapes with cookie cutters, make fruit or veggie kabobs, and use colorful foods, Bures said.

Also, whenever possible include something special in your child’s lunch box, such as a sticker, pencil, handwritten note or yummy treat.

“There’s no need to eat healthy all the time, just keep portions in check,” Frankeny said. “For example, you could include four Hershey Kisses or two homemade cookies.”

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