Dear Nutritionist: It’s back to school time, and I need some inspiration. Can you help me with healthy and creative lunch box ideas?
When it comes to packing lunches, it’s easy to fall into a rut of the same old sandwich and chips. Kids like variety, too! But you also don’t want the hummus to end up in the trash. Here are a few ideas for keeping the lunchbox desirable for your kids—and healthy.
make lunch fun
In general, half of their meal should be fruits and vegetables, but with school lunch, go fruit-heavy. Kids love fruit, and it gives them a naturally sweet treat. Apple, pear, or nectarine slices can be a great alternative to bread or crackers for dipping in almond or sunflower butter or eating with cheese slices. Try adding mashed berries or sliced fruit to sandwiches, in place of jam or jelly. Or experiment with making your own fruit leather. It’s easy and you can customize it to your child’s liking.
When it comes to vegetables, school lunch isn’t the time to try to get your child to eat broccoli—unless she loves it! Include kids’ favorite veggies, like sweet cherry tomatoes, snow peas, or carrot sticks. Add some fun with a dipper, like homemade ranch dressing made from Greek yogurt.
Be sure to include a source of protein, so they have a source of energy that will stick with them through the afternoon: sliced turkey, sliced cheese, bean dip (like hummus), Greek yogurt, or school-approved nut butters, nuts, or seeds.
Make lunch fun. Make “sushi” pinwheels out of whole wheat pita and fillings, or use character-shaped cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into shapes. Bento boxes allow your child to mix-and-match the contents to make their own creations.
Include a treat, but keep it rather low in refined sugar so your child doesn’t fall asleep in class. Fruit is a great choice, but cookies or muffins made with whole wheat pastry flour (for fiber) and filled with dried fruit or a little chocolate are also great.
Mostly, ask your child to help you design their lunches. In general, kids are more likely to eat what they have a hand in creating. It’s a great way to spend time together!
Lisa Samuel is a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist and founding partner of NourishRDs. Check out Lisa’s schedule of upcoming cooking classes and workshops through the Co-op’s Healthy Connections program. You can also find more of her non-diet advice on the NourishRDs Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and blog.