Healthy Back-to-School Lunches Kids Will Love
Six Tips for Packing Nutritious Meals
Packed Lunches Made Easy
Creating fresh, nutritious, and cost-effective lunches doesn’t have to be complicated. A little bit of preparation can go a long way. Set your child up for success with these six tips:
1. Make healthy eating a habit at home. When children are used to eating foods from the five food groups, they are more willing to eat those same foods for lunch anywhere, including school. The five groups, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), are: grains; vegetables, including beans and peas; fruits; protein foods, which includes meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, and nuts; dairy, including all fluid milk products.
Choose foods with a high nutrient content (protein, minerals, and vitamins) compared with the percentage of calories, fat, and sodium. Small amounts of oils, fats that are liquid at room temperature, are also recommended by the USDA. Although they are not a food group, they provide essential nutrients.
In addition to the food groups, other components to consider for healthy eating are added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. While there is room for some added sugars or saturated fats occasionally, limit the amount your kids eat. Sweet treats such as cakes, cookies, candy, and sugary drinks have a lot of calories, but few nutrients. If you include them in their lunch, serve bite-size portions.
2. Involve children in meal preparation. This not only empowers children and promotes a feeling of responsibility, but also makes your child more likely to eat the lunch. Keep the pantry stocked with healthy staples and post a list of ideas on the refrigerator from which kids can choose. You can designate part of your kitchen as the lunch-packing station where the entire family can get the meal ready for the next day.
3. Give kids a choice. When preparing lunch, ask your child which healthy option they would prefer — such as a banana or strawberries. By giving them a choice, they learn how to compromise and hone their decision-making skills.
4. Mix-and-match. Using the five food groups as a guide, toss in whole grain crackers with peanut butter, cut-up veggies with hummus, Greek yogurt with berries or a slice of cheese on top of whole grain bread. The goal is to have variety, color, and to include three to five of the food groups at each meal.
5. Make good nutrition fun. Get creative with healthy foods. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of sandwiches, cheese, or deli meats. Using a bento box can help you create an appealing, colorful lunch and keep the food items separated, which is often important to kids. Consider having a theme lunch, such as a pirate meal.
6. Nix juice and soda. As much as kids love drinking soda and juice, water is the best drink for them. Fat-free or one-percent milk is also a good option because it’s packed with calcium and vitamin D. Let your child pick out their favorite water bottle, and throw in frozen fruit if they complain water is too boring.
Using these tips, you and your family are off to a healthy and fun start to the school year.
Mackenzie Coffin, M.D., is a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic, Carmel Valley. Dr. Coffin provides care for newborns, children, and teens, acting as a compassionate guide for families and their children. When not seeing patients, Dr. Coffin enjoys beach runs, weight lifting, yoga, reading, playing piano, painting, and spending time with family and friends.
Looking for a new doctor? To find a Scripps physician near you call 858-375-1418 or visit scripps.org/92067lunches.