While many parents are excited for the start of school, packing lunches day after day can be less than thrilling. Here are 5 tips to help you pack an inspired, interactive and healthy lunch to keep your star pupil energized!
1. Plan ahead and keep must have items stocked in your fridge, freezer and pantry. Pack as much of the lunch (if not all of it) the day or night before. Some of my favorite items I keep stocked (besides fruits and vegetables) include hummus, guacamole, Joseph’s tortillas, Beanitos chips, hardboiled eggs, canned tuna, canned wild salmon, cheese, milk and ice packs. Lunches don’t have to be complicated. Try to use the foods you already have in the house. There’s nothing wrong with packing leftovers.
2. Include a variety of colors, textures and shapes. Put in the extra effort to make the lunch look fun and appealing for your child. If the lunch looks good, your kids are likely going to eat it. Use cookie/vegetable cutters, sandwich cutters, and silicone cupcake liners for color and portion control. I try to make lunches fun and as interactive as possible. For example, I cut shapes into cucumbers and fruit; anything that can be dipped or skewered is usually a success.
3. Aim for a balanced lunch. Half of the lunch should consist of fruits and vegetables, a quarter protein and the last quarter should be grains, preferably whole grains. Balancing meals helps to ensure that your child gets the needed vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and fiber they need to stay healthy and satisfied. When packing lunches, I always ask myself if I have most of the colors represented and if I have items from each of the MyPlate categories. Aim for your kids to eat fruits and vegetables from all of the colors of the rainbow over the course of each day to get the most nutritional benefits.
4. Don’t be afraid to try new foods. It’s ok if some lunches are flops, your kids will not starve! It can take many introductions to a new food before your child develops a taste for it. Offer a variety of food in each lunch and your child will have something to eat. If I’m worried something might not go over well, I show my daughter a picture of her lunch for the next day and explain what everything is. If your child is old enough, include them in the lunch planning and preparation stage.
Maggie Shapiro, MPH, RD, LDN
creator of Tomorrow’s Lunch
Maggie Shapiro is a Registered Dietitian and mom of two, who created Tomorrow’s Lunch to help parents and caregivers come up with healthy, colorful and creative lunches for kids. Maggie earned her MPH from Boston University School of Public Health, concentrating in Social and Behavioral Sciences, and completed her Dietetic Internship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Her expertise areas include general nutrition, healthy eating, weight control, heart health, childhood overweight/obesity, and maternal nutrition. Follow her nutrition tips and advice for healthy meals attomorrowslunch.org and www.facebook.com/tomorrowslunch.