Nutritional Balance, Variety and Portion Sizes
Good, healthy lunches don’t need to be complicated. However, strive to create packed lunches that represent good nutritional balance and variety. It’s really simple - every day send a bit of protein, dairy, fruit, vegetable, grain and a little treat. Be conscious of ensuring that proteins are well represented, as they will make your child feel more satiated. Kids they need energy to get them through a long school day. Send appropriate portions for the age and gender of your child.
Making lunches easy for kids to eat
If your kids are anything like mine, some of those packed lunches will come back home uneaten. Children are distracted at school. They spend their lunchtime socializing and very rarely focus on the food in front of them. Our advice is to invest in an appropriate lunch container. Ideally you should look for one that is tray like, where your child can see all the foods in front of them at once. Food in baggies and multiple containers are often forgotten or pushed aside. Good foods aren’t being consumed, just wasted. If your children are young, cut their foods into bite-sized pieces. Small portions are less intimidating and can also make it easier to introduce new healthy foods.
Choose My Plate website is a helpful resource with user-friendly charts indicating daily recommended portions of each food group that children should be consuming. If you overpack, you are teaching your child to overeat and also, most likely, to waste food.
Children love repetition, but they also love games
Keep packing your child’s favorite foods daily but add a new fruit, vegetable or cheese in the mix as often as possible. Even the pickiest eaters get bored of the same old thing day after day. If your child likes mild flavored cheese like mozzarella, incorporate ricotta one day and smoked mozzarella another. See what they think. Or introduce a game. Perhaps for each new tried food they get a sticker. Or they have to guess what color was missing in their lunch. Perhaps create a weekly lunch menu and add a little surprise item each day. Let them tell you what has been added. Games will get kids more engaged with their meal and they will look forward to new food surprises! (and those don’t necessarily need to be a treat).
Keep it seasonal
Nothing tastes better than a seasonal fruit or vegetable. Your picky eater will be more likely to have a positive experience trying a new food if it is tasty. A juicy and fragrant in-season strawberry or ripe tomato, will be more likely to win your child over than a tasteless greenhouse fruit that you have purchased at the supermarket off-season. Plus, it’s better for your family’s budget!
Children are comforted by routines, schedules and information. Creating a weekly packed lunch menu will not only help you feel more organized, but it will create an opportunity for your child to be involved in the selection process. Find out what they like to eat. Take them shopping. Perhaps suggest one or two new things to be added to their lunch menu on a weekly basis. Repetition is good, but variety and exposure will help to broaden their palate and make the packed lunch experience more fun and educational. This is also be a great life lesson for them regarding healthy meal planning.
Five Ideas for Healthy Lunches for Kids
Healthy lunches should be based on few key ingredients that you know your kids like. Those can be accented by a new food addition on a regular basis. Working around the key ingredients on a weekly basis will help you save money and shopping time. If your child likes ham, for example, purchase one that can be repurposed in various ways - in a roll, cut up in cubes, minced and added to savory muffins. Other good staples to have at hand are dried fruit, jarred olives, seeds (like sunflower or pumpkin), rice crackers, pickles (ideally homemade), and Babybel Cheese (because it keeps well and kids love it).
Monday: Nice to designate a day to be meatless: Sardine Rilette, crackers, cucumber spears, apple slices, Gouda cheese slices, and a square of dark chocolate for dessert.
Tuesday: We love this idea from Skinny Taste: Turkey taco lettuce wraps. Pack some shredded roasted meat, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, sour cream, cheddar cheese and lettuce leaves. Child assembles their own lettuce taco. It's fun and healthy! For dessert, send a few roasted almonds.
Wednesday: DIY Lunchables are not only healthy, they are also cheap to make! Ham rolls, cubes of gruyere cheese, crackers, strips of red peppers and some black olives, apple sauce and a chocolate treat.
Thursday: By Thursday kids are tired of the long busy week. Pack their lunches with extra protein, which does not necessarily need to come from meat! Bread sushi with almond butter and raspberry jam, steamed edamame, greek yogurt with honey drizzle, blueberries, and homemade granola made with oats.
Friday: Simple end of the week. If you have any leftovers, try to incorporate them here: Leftover pasta salad, baby tomatoes, halved strawberries and blueberry muffin.