Pack a Lunch That’s Sure to Please Your Kid
Make the most of the midday meal
Sandwiches fuse the all-important trio of protein, carbohydrate, and fats
Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but lunch is a close second. The contents of your child’s lunchbox will ensure a steady stream of nutrients flowing to the brain, keep blood sugar levels on keel, and instill lifelong healthy-eating habits.
The rules of thumb: aim for a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and keep sugar, salt, and saturated fat to a minimum. Go for visual appeal with a variety of colors, shapes, and textures.
Protein packs punch
Sandwiches fuse the all-important trio of protein, carbohydrate, and fats.
- Test out these combinations: nut butter (peanut, almond, or sunflower) and fruit-only jam, egg salad, tuna salad, tomato and cheese, cream cheese and apple butter, and turkey and Swiss cheese.
- Or, go à la carte with yogurt, canned salmon, hardboiled eggs, soy jerky, cheese slices or string cheese, baked tofu cubes, bean and cheese mini-burritos, soy beans (edamame), mixed nuts, and energy bars.
Complex carbs—Don’t leave home without them
Don’t shy away from complex carbohydrates. Kids’ rapidly growing brains and bodies need the fuel.
- Look for snacks made with whole grains. Sesame and wild rice sticks, breadsticks, pretzels, corn chips, cereals, and crackers are good choices.
- The USDA Food Guide Pyramid recommends five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Sneak in a couple at lunchtime: pick fresh fruit that travels well, such as apples, pears, oranges, bananas, pineapple, seasonal berries, plums, peaches, and grapes. Vegetables are a tougher sell for finicky palates. Pack sliced carrots, celery, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, or broccoli along with a zesty hummus dip or ranch dressing.
- Dried fruit is a treasure trove of fiber, iron, and trace minerals. Reach beyond raisins—try dates, apricots, cherries, bananas, papaya, and mango.
Treats that satisfy the sweet tooth while achieving your nutritional goals abound. Try one of these:
- Graham or animal crackers (preferably made with whole wheat flour), fruit leathers, fig bars, granola bars, pudding, or a piece of chocolate.
- Fruit salad with a dash of yogurt and cinnamon, or applesauce sprinkled with raisins.
- What to drink? Keep high-sugar fruit juices to a minimum or dilute them with water. Opt for water or protein- and calcium-rich soy milk or cow’s milk.
Some children are overwhelmed by large amounts of food, so make servings small and simple.
- Cut sandwiches into easy-to-eat quarters.
- Buy in bulk and transfer foods to reusable one-serving containers.
- Cut fruit and vegetables into slices or small hunks.
- Purchase mini-carrots, small tortillas, and kid-size crackers and snacks.
Be inventive. Play with your food. Your kids will catch on that eating can be fun.
- Dust off your cookie cutters and make fun shapes in slices of cheese, bread, or apple.
- Spice it up! Try a dash of cinnamon in applesauce, or lemon pepper on a turkey sandwich.
- Introduce new flavors. Nori, a type of seaweed, makes a salty, crunchy snack. Sweet potato or taro chips can be an exotic, yet healthful, change as well.
- Think themes. Combine a bean and cheese mini-burrito, tortilla chips, and a mini-container of salsa. For the adventuresome palate, try a few pieces of sushi (the cooked variety), soybeans, and rice crackers.
- Switch out sandwich bread with an English muffin, tortilla, bagel, rice cakes, flatbread, or pita bread.
Make lunchtime a memorable affair for your kids with a little forethought, a dash of imagination, and a sprinkle of variety. Bon appétit.
Kathleen Finn is a Portland-area freelance writer and marketing consultant in the natural health industry. She is on a constant quest to creatively stock her daughter's lunchbox.