Back to school season is stressful for children and parents alike, and parents are concerned about ensuring that their child eats a nourishing lunch to power through the school day. The situation can prove to be frustrating when the lunches come back home uneaten. Rainie Carter, director of Clinical Nutrition at Children’s of Alabama, offers tips for packing a lunch that will please both kids and parents.
Cover the Nutritional Bases
- Include protein to help keep them full through the afternoon with items like string cheese, yogurt, meat, or nuts (if the school guidelines allow them). Carter’s favorite tips are to use a whole wheat tortilla to make pinwheels with lunch meat or freezing yogurt the night before for a creamy treat.
- Fruits and vegetables are important for your child’s fiber intake. “Kids love to dip and scoop so you can pack a little bit of ranch dressing or hummus with vegetables,” Carter advises. For produce that turns brown when cut, like apples, Carter suggests squeezing a little bit of lemon juice over the chunks to placate picky kids.
- Stick with whole grain for items like bread or crackers, and stay away from concentrated sweets like candy or gummy snacks as these can lead to an energy crash later in the day. “Also, avoid sugary drinks like soda or juice. Make sure that they have plenty of water, and a frozen water bottle will work as an ice pack too.”
Involve Them in the Process
- Plan as a family for the week’s lunches. “Spend a little time pre-chopping veggies and fruit, and let your child put portions into bags or containers. If they’re old enough, let them do the cutting too. They are more likely to eat something if they remember helping with it,” Carter said.
- Giving your child options can be a great way to gain their interest. “Let them pick within your constraints,” Carter suggests. “For instance, show them two choices for a fruit and say, ‘Do you want apples or grapes today?” Parents can also do this in the store to make sure they buy what the child wants to eat. She says to stick to the outskirts of the store for fresh produce and whole grains, avoiding the packaged foods in the aisles.
Have a Little Fun
- Pack a variety of snacks to keep them interested and sneak in more nutrient-rich foods. “Lunch does not have to be a sandwich and a piece of fruit. Kids enjoy finger foods so bento boxes are popular to portion out a few snacks instead of one big lunch item,” Carter said.
- Get creative if your child tires of the same lunch items. “Some parents will use a cookie cutter to remove the sandwich crust and make a fun shape. If the school allows it, try putting things on sticks like a fruit kabob. Kids love colorful lunches too, so find ways to incorporate that,” Carter recommends.
- Try making trail mix with your child, letting them fill their own bags. Carter’s suggested ingredients are dried fruit, granola, nuts or chocolate chips.