The new school year is a great opportunity to start packing nutritious lunches. Provide a balanced lunch by including a fruit, vegetables, a protein, whole grains and a low fat dairy or dairy substitute.
How do you encourage children to eat a healthy lunch? One step is to involve the child. At the store let them choose which produce to buy. Also, find new foods and chat about the color, shape, size and feel.
Another tip is having kids help with packing. Depending on the age they can wash or rinse fruit and veggies, tear lettuce or slice fruit and vegetables.
Give lunch interest with variety — try tortillas, pitas wraps, flat bread, rice, and noodles. Also, change up favorites and do a veggie tortilla pizza or peanut butter banana tortilla roll up — adding cut berries for variety. For chili send butter nut squash and black bean chili; or extra lean ground chicken in place of ground beef.
Try to make lunches attractive with color, different shapes and textures and cut sandwiches into appealing designs. To liven up sandwiches, put shredded carrots and zucchini, sliced apples or pears on them.
Offer a variety of protein by packing sliced leftover lean meat for sandwiches, wraps or casseroles. Use nut butters, beans, bean dip, tofu cubes.
To vary whole grains, pack brown rice cakes, graham crackers, air popped popcorn, whole wheat pretzels.
Kids love to dunk, so send nutritious foods to dunk. Try apple and pear slices to dip into low fat yogurt or peanut butter. Vegetables can be dipped into hummus, salsa or homemade bean dip. And for soup, whole grain crackers or slices of grilled tofu make excellent dippers.
To reduce food borne illnesses, wash hands before and after preparing your child’s lunch. Make sure the counter is clean and dry and that the lunch box is clean. Teach them to wash their hands before eating and pack moist towelettes for extra protection.
With perishable foods, such as dairy, hard boiled eggs or meat, use a frozen ice pack and an insulated bag. Make sandwiches the night before and freeze or at least refrigerate overnight. Due to texture quality, pack tomato separately, do not freeze. Have extra freezer gel packs in case one gets left at school. Sugar free frozen fruit cups can be used as an ice pack.
Other safe steps include, buying milk at school as it is kept cold, using a thermos to keep leftovers, chilis and soups hot or cold and to tell your child to throw away uneaten perishable foods after lunch.
Another healthy plan is to avoid prepackaged meals, as there is too much salt, fat and sugar and limited nutrient value and instead prepare foods your own foods with little or no salt.
Many beverages have high amounts of sugar. When purchasing juice buy 100% juice. Other smart choices are water, low fat milk or low sodium vegetable juice. Flavored milks should be offered sparingly because of sugar content.
Dessert can be a favorite part of lunch, but having too often adds extra calories. Offer occasionally. A cookie with nutrients like oatmeal makes a good special treat.
Nibbling on nutrient rich foods when young leads to good lifelong habits. Limit the access of unhealthy foods and have alternatives to replace them. A vegetable may not be as exciting as a brownie in the beginning. Stick it out, and rejoice in small wins. Eating is learned so it may take 15 times to try a new food to like it. If your child doesn’t like it, don’t force it but do try another time.
Leading children toward eating healthy will help them achieve a more productive and gratifying life. Visit www.eatright.org, www.heart.org, or www.cfaes.osu.edu for more helpful hints like these.
If you are pregnant or have a child under age 5, call the Meigs County Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) at 740-992-0392 to see if you are eligible for supplemental foods and nutrition education for you or your child.
Wendy McGee, RD, LD, is a certifying WIC Health Professional at the Meigs County Health Department.