Kids are back at school, and if you’re a parent, you may be on the front lines of the lunchbox wars that often ensue.
Packing your child’s lunch is a great way to help encourage healthy eating, but if you find the lunch is left uneaten… (or traded for another “less healthy” lunch)… then your efforts seem in vain. Focus on supplying your child with nutrient-dense foods to promote optimal energy and brain power.
Yes, issues with picky eaters, time crunches, food safety due to lack of refrigeration and possible school policies restricting certain foods can make it challenging. Overcome these obstacles and kick off the school year with a healthy and positive focus on school lunch using these four tips from Julie Bender-Sibbio, RD, LD, of Sarasota Memorial’s Nutrition Counseling & Coaching Program:
1. Make Packing FUN: Involve your youngster in the process of packing lunch. Talk about the kinds of food they would like to eat. Have a conversation about the benefit of including healthy foods such as fruit/veggies that supply nutrients to “think clearly and avoid illness;” whole grains to provide “energy;” and lean protein to build healthy “muscles” and promote growth. If they understand how food can benefit their bodies AND if they have a say in what goes into their lunch, they often will eat it!
2. Shop & Chop Together: If appropriate, take children to the grocery store and allow them to select 2-4 foods to include in their lunches. It could be a different fruit, a healthy snack food, dip for veggies, or flatbread and wraps for a sandwich. When you get home, try the new food together and talk about ways it could be included in their lunch that week. Also, consider chopping veggies and fruits together. Kids may only have time (or focus) to eat a few bites of an apple or banana, so slice it ahead of time.
3. Consider Snack-Style Eating: Sandwiches can be tricky for kids to eat on their short lunch periods. Highly processed meats are not always the best choice and egg or tuna salad can get “mushy.” Consider a snack-style lunch made up of food that can be packed in small reusable containers, with an ice pack to keep items cold. Cheese slices, whole-grain crackers and cucumber slices can be stacked or eaten separately. Other choices include leftover chicken, carrots with dip and blue corn chips. Include a tortilla and cheese with homemade chicken fingers and kids can make a wrap.
4. Focus on COLOR: (2 or more): Encourage your child to have at least 2 “colors” in their lunch box. (Sorry, ketchup and mustard don’t count.☺) If they have 2 or more colors each day for a week, they get a small treat (non-food related of course)! Focus on fruit and vegetables with a wide range of colors. One favorite is yogurt dip (vanilla Greek yogurt, canned pumpkin, cinnamon) with fruit and sliced cucumbers. This makes it fun for families to find a way to include more color in their lunches!
We would love to hear your ideas and experiences – Leave a comment.
Happy packing…and let’s banish the lunchbox wars this year and help our kids think positively about food!
Julie Bender-Sibbio, RD, LD, is part of Sarasota Memorial’s Nutrition Counseling & Coaching Program. Do you want to manage a health issue or just simply live well? Sarasota Memorial’s nutrition and lifestyle coaches can help! They provide the education and support you need to change old habits and meet personal wellness goals. Call (941) 917-7468 or click here for more information.