Kids Lunches

Keeping kids interested in healthy lunches can be tricky, especially if you have a picky eater.  Check out these ideas and tips for keeping kids well fed and focused through the busy school day. 

If your child doesn't like sandwiches, there are plenty of alternatives.  Here are just a few ideas:

·        Kebabs with fruit, cheese, and lean meat

·        Tuna or chicken salad with crackers and veggies

·        Chili or soup in a thermos

·        Ants on a log

·        Build-your-own yogurt parfait (pack ingredients separately so they don't get soggy) 

Whole foods are the best choice to keep kids energized and focused, but if you are short on time, here are some healthier packaged snacks that can come in handy:

·        Fig Newtons

·        Graham crackers

·        Goldfish crackers

·        Granola bars

·        Triscuits (keep the serving smaller for kids)

·        Popcorn

·        Pudding

·        Cheerios or other low sugar cereal (kids can buy milk at school)

·        Rice cakes

·        Canned fruits packed in water or fruit juice.  Watch out for the sugar content and strain fruit when possible. 

Here are some whole food choices that are kid friendly and easy to pack:

·        Unsalted nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios

·        Homemade granola

·        Whole fruits such as apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, berries, peaches, plums, or nectarines

·        Carrot sticks or celery sticks, packed with some peanut butter or almond butter

·        Yogurt, choose plain yogurt and let kids add fruit or granola when they get to school

·        Sliced cucumber, peppers, green beans, or other crunchy vegetable, add a little bit of dip to keep it exciting

·        Hummus

·        Unsweetened applesauce or other fruits purees.  Avoid those made with artificial flavors or sweeteners. 

Some snack foods are better choices for kids than others. When time is tight, it can be easy to turn to processed foods for convenience, but they don't always provide the nutrients kids need to stay energized and focused. Here are some snacks to limit, or only serve once in a while:

·        Fried foods or frozen microwave foods like handheld pies or pizza bites

·        Juices, punches, sodas, sweetened beverages

·        Sugary cereals

·        Processed meals like Lunchables- great in a pinch, not every day.  

General tips for making sure your child has a safe and enjoyable eating experience outside the home:

·        Make sure your child's teacher is aware of any special dietary issues, food allergies or intolerances.  Prepare your children ahead of time so they know what they can and can't eat to stay safe.

·        Provide healthy, whole food snacks like fresh fruits and vegetables in lunches and at home.  If chips and cookies are available, your child will want to eat those instead. You can't control what happens in the cafeteria, but you can encourage your child to make healthy eating choices by setting an example at home.

·        If you will be packing foods that need to be refrigerated, make sure your child has an insulated lunch bag with ice packs.  You can also freeze sandwiches, nuts, yogurts, and packaged snacks before packing them so the whole lunch stays cool longer.

·        Let your child shop for school lunch items and let them help pack the lunches when possible.  This will help them stay interested in their lunches and teach them how to prepare healthy meals on their own.

·        Be aware of all school policies before the school year starts.  Some schools have no-peanut policies, or no-cupcake policies.  Know what is expected and plan accordingly. 

·        Encourage your kids to bring food home instead of throwing it away if they don't eat it. This gives you a better idea of what your child is eating (or not eating) so you can adjust meals accordingly.  

Want more tips and ideas?  Here are some reliable and trusted resources:

Chop Chop Magazine

Meal Makeover Moms

Kids Eat Right

Jill Castle, MS, RD