Tips for Packing Healthier, More Colorful Lunches
Packing a lunchbox for your child can be a daunting task. We all want to provide our kids with healthy foods that they will actually eat. As the new school year gets underway, here are some ideas for your child’s mid-day meal.
“I tend to plan a packed lunch by breaking it down into compartments,” shared Dr. Mary Callahan, a pediatrician with Preferred Pediatrics. “The main compartment is usually taken up by the sandwich, crackers and protein such as meat, cheeses, egg slices, or noodle salad.
“Smaller side compartments are for a fruit and veggie. I think a fruit and veggie should always be a staple in every lunch. This is what provides the balance to the monotony of, say, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It doesn't have to be extravagant: sliced apples, a few slices of carrot sticks, peas mixed with ranch for a mini pea salad of sorts. And don't limit yourself to only lunch foods. Whole grain pancakes with Nutella could be a random change-up to catch the lunch eater by surprise.”
Nancy Farrell, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Farrell Dietitian Services, also stressed the importance of incorporating veggies.
“Vegetables should be included in every lunch meal,” she said. “Most people don’t pack them, but pack excess fruits and snack items.”
Farrell suggests packing vegetables that are crisp and crunchy rather than soft and mushy. This can include baby carrots, sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes, broccoli bites and cucumber slices. You can also add spinach leaves to sandwiches or pack a tossed or chef salad.
Sandwiches can be made with whole grain bagels, wraps or pita pockets topped with lettuce.
Michelle Dorsey Graf, a nurse practitioner with Pediatric Partners for Attention and Learning, recommends cooking a whole chicken on a Sunday and using it throughout the week.
“You can shred it and use it in wraps or pitas, or make a chicken salad and add your veggies to it,” Graf said.
Other sources of protein include hummus, salmon and tuna, cheese, eggs and beans.
“Hard-boiled eggs are also easy and a good source of nutrition,” said Graf. “Edamame is a good substitute for chips. You can also make an English muffin with peanut butter or cream cheese, or spread avocado slices on toast.”
Growing and preparing your own vegetables is a good way to add variety, and children are more likely to consume them if they know exactly where they come from and how they are made.
“Include your children in the decisions for their lunches,” Graf suggested. “Ask them what they want. They are more likely to eat what you pack if they are part of the decision-making process.”
The following is courtesy of Farrell Dietician Services:
Back To School Nutrition
With childhood and adolescent obesity on the rise it is now more important than ever that our youth make nutrition count at every opportunity. But, they can’t do it alone.
Whether at home or at school, make sure children eat a healthy well-balanced breakfast. Complete with low-fat milk, whole grain products and 100% juice.
Encourage consumption of vegetables, as most kids don’t consume enough of these colorful, fiber filled delights. Kids prefer crisp and crunchy rather than soft and mushy. Remember, persistence is important, as it may take several attempts of offering a new food. Don’t give up.
Offer lunch sandwiches made with whole grain bagels, wraps or pita pockets topped with lettuce. Encourage kids to try new tastes and texture through variety. As possible, add sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, or petite carrots to munch along with that sandwich.
Fruit filled yogurt cups provide calcium for growing bones. Serve this with rice cakes, low-fat granola, small muffins, or graham crackers for a healthy after school snack.
Having healthy foods available for children is significant to their growth and well being. Continue to offer varied opportunities that help to educate children on the importance of nutrition in a healthy lifestyle.
More Lunch Box Ideas
Every lunch should contain a VEGGIE along with sources of dairy, protein and grain. Also invest in some user friendly lunch box containers to carry small servings of fruits, dip, etc.
*Walnut Acres makes Fruit Squeezies, which are squeezable applesauce sweetened with fruit juice rather than sugar.
*Mott’s Healthy Harvest Line of applesauce that have no added sugars or artificial sweeteners.
*Fresh fruit is preferable to fruit juice, as the whole fruit will provide much needed fiber.
Pack kiwi fruit, watermelon and blueberries for a nice refreshing treat.
*Dried fruits like apricots, cherries, and raisins can help tame that sweet tooth.
*100% juice...no greater than 4 ounce servings
Enjoy and add reduced-fat dip, or hummus, if needed
*crunchy sugar snap peas
*grape tomatoes or tomato wedges drizzled with light Italian dressing
*add fresh spinach leaves to your sandwiches for crispness and Vitamin A
*a chef salad or tossed salad sent in a reusable container
*4 oz. servings of yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese cups are perfect sized for kids.
*part-skim mozzarella string cheese
*Silk brand flavored soy milk beverages in 8oz. boxes are lactose free and contain calcium.
*Reduced fat chocolate milk boxes help kids to meet protein and calcium needs.
*use whole grain as much as possible
*Tortilla wrapped sandwiches
*Whole Wheat Pita bread pocket sandwiches
*raisin bread, homemade blueberry muffin, zucchini bread, banana bread, cranberry orange muffins
*pretzels or traditional Chex Mix
* rice cakes- bring soynut butter or reduced fat cream cheese to spread on at lunch
*Barbara’s Puffins Cinnamon breakfast cereal are bite sized tasty, high fiber nuggets to enjoy on their own without a bowl or milk.
*cereal bars...be sure to check labels as some are healthier than others, for example Barbara’s Puffins Blueberry Cereal Bars are wheat free, have no trans fat and taste great. MADE GOOD bars, Kids Cliff bars
*low-fat microwave popcorn or Boom Chicka Pop Popcorn
*Robert’s Smart Puffs or Pirates Booty are crunchy cheese flavored snacks.
*a small handful of walnuts (Omega-3 fats) mixed in with your dried fruit.
*fig bars (in various fruit flavors)
be sure to add a salad or raw veggies
*yes, cold pizza can work
*for the little ones...send warm soup or last night’s spaghetti
*Boars Head Lower Sodium Ham rolled up and skewered with a tooth pick. Send in honey mustard sauce for dipping.
*Low fat chicken or tuna salad sent in a separate container, and spoon onto your bread at lunch time to prevent soggy bread.
As many Americans eat way too few of these, be sure to select a fruit, veggie and dairy product in addition to the protein and grain you will be served in the cafeteria line.
If you are given a choice of a few entrees to select from...search for the lower calorie, most nutrient rich item(s). This may require learned nutrition education skills. Be wary of ala carte items- often they will be less nutrient dense and can require an additional out of pocket expense.
Sandwich and Wrap Ideas - That Are Easy and Healthy (not necessarily for the lunch box!)
A simple sandwich, when well made, can provide many of the major food groups—lean protein, whole grains, dairy, vegetables, and even a bit of heart-healthy fat. Here are some easy-to-make and healthful suggestions.
Philly beef sandwich
Sauté onion and green pepper in a little olive oil. Layer lean roast beef and reduced-fat cheddar cheese on whole-grain bread. Broil until the cheese is melted. Layer the vegetables over the filling, and spread the top piece of bread with Dijon mustard.
Tofu, chicken or turkey salad with mango chutney or marmalade
Mix chunks of tofu or cooked chicken or turkey with low-fat plain yogurt and/or mayonnaise. Mix in dried cranberries, diced apple, diced celery, and chopped smoked almonds. Spread on one slice whole-grain bread. Top with another slice of whole-grain bread spread with either mango chutney or orange marmalade.
Mushroom, onion, and spinach bagel
Sauté sliced mushrooms and onions in canola or olive oil. Sprinkle with dried rosemary and basil. Place mushroom mixture onto half of a toasted whole-wheat bagel. Top with fresh spinach and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.
Eggplant and roasted pepper wrap
Sauté chopped eggplant and roasted red peppers in canola or olive oil. Place mixture in center of wrap and top with goat cheese.
Monte Cristo sandwich
Place one slice reduced-fat deli ham and one slice deli turkey on whole-grain bread. Top with a slice of low-fat Swiss cheese. Combine an equal amount of egg substitute and skim milk in a bowl. Dip both sides of the sandwich into the mixture. Cook in a skillet until browned on each side.
Egg salad wrap
Hard boil three eggs. Mix together two egg whites, one egg yolk, 2 tablespoons (Tbsp) of reduced-fat mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon (tsp) of yellow mustard, 1 tsp of relish or diced pickle, and ¼ tsp of dried basil. Sprinkle with paprika to your liking. Spread on the center of a wrap. Top with sliced tomato.
Turkey and brie sandwich
Rub a small amount of honey onto a thin slice of brie cheese. Place deli turkey and the brie cheese on the bottom piece of a honey-wheat flavored whole-grain roll. Broil until the cheese is melted. Place slices of green apple on top and replace the top of the roll.
Grilled Hawaiian chicken sandwich
Grill a chicken breast for about 6 minutes on each side, or as recommended by your grill. Grill a slice of pineapple for 3 minutes on each side. Place the chicken and the pineapple on a whole-grain roll. Mix 1 Tbsp of reduced-fat mayonnaise with fresh lime zest, and spread on bun.
Chop ¼ pound of skinless salmon filet into small pieces. Mix salmon with ½ Tbsp of diced green onion, a dash of salt and pepper, ½ tsp of lemon zest, ½ Tbsp of chopped fresh parsley, ½ tsp of fresh lime juice, 2 Tbsp of reduced-fat mayonnaise, and 2 Tbsp of low-fat plain yogurt. Shape mixture into a patty. Heat a small amount of canola oil in a skillet. Cook burger for 3 minutes on each side. Top with reduced-fat tartar sauce, and serve on a whole-wheat bun.
Chicken club wrap
Heat grilled chicken strips, and place in the center of a wrap. Fry two slices of turkey bacon and crumble; mix with four chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 3 Tbsp of blue cheese, and 2 Tbsp of diced red onion. Top chicken with bacon mixture. Layer with lettuce.