Your daughter has finally picked the princess lunchbox and your son the one with the latest superhero. Now it's your turn to figure out what goes inside that's healthy, tasty and something they'll actually eat, not trade or toss.
If your kids are stuck in a peanut butter rut, read on for some out-of-the-(lunch)-box ideas sure to earn high marks.
Lunch Lessons for Parents
Start by skipping these common lunch-packing mistakes:
Totally controlling the contents. Kids are more likely to eat a lunch they help choose or prepare. Of course, that doesn't mean "anything goes"—your job is to offer wholesome options and let kids have some say on which to include. Let them pick from fixins like a variety of fruits and veggies; whole-grain breads, bagels or crackers; lean sandwich fillings, or entrées. Get prep help—let little kids do simple tasks like washing grapes and older kids make sandwiches.
Sending too much food. Lunch periods can be as short as 15 minutes, so don't send more food than kids can eat in the time allowed. Pack foods that are easy-to-eat (such as apple slices instead of a whole apple) and in easy-to-open packages.
Food Safety Tips
Keep lunches safe with these tips:
Invest in an insulated lunchbox and thermos. They help keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Use a thermos (stainless steel is best) to send foods like soup, chili or cold salads. For cold foods, chill the thermos in the refrigerator overnight. For hot foods, rinse the thermos with boiling water to preheat it before adding food.
Add an ice pack. To keep lunches cold, add a small frozen ice pack or make your own by freezing a 100% juice box—it will thaw by lunchtime.
Keep it clean. Toss leftovers and wash containers and lunchboxes thoroughly with warm, soapy water after each use.
Rockin' Lunch Ideas
A healthy lunch includes a fruit and a vegetable; whole-grain breads or crackers; lean fillings like turkey or roast beef; low-fat versions of toppings like cheese, mayo or other spreads; and a drink like low-fat or fat-free white or flavored milk, a 100% juice box or water. It's fine to send one small treat (for example, a handful of chips or a small cookie, not both).
Try these lunch ideas to earn an A+ from your kids:
Corn tortilla spread with refried beans, shredded low-fat cheese and salsa.
Leftover cheese or veggie pizza.
Pasta salad made with whole-grain macaroni and lots of veggies, plus lean meat or low-fat cheese cubes. Toss with light vinaigrette dressing.
Whole-wheat crackers with low-fat cheese shapes, grapes and apple slices.
Whole-grain pita pocket stuffed with chicken Caesar salad.
California or veggie rolls (look for them freshly prepared in the deli section of the supermarket).
Minestrone soup with whole-grain breadsticks.
Turkey slice rolled around a low-fat mozzarella stick.
Whole-grain wrap or tortilla spread with hummus and rolled with sliced veggies.
Mini cinnamon raisin bagel spread with almond butter and sliced bananas.