Outside the (lunch) box ideas from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life program:
The freezer is your friend. Try freezing yogurt tubes (opt for low-fat and added-sugar free varieties) and PB&J sandwiches ahead of time. Toss them in the lunchbox on the way out the door and they’ll be thawed and lunch-ready by the time the bell rings. (Sandwich secret? Try layering the peanut butter, or any nut butter, on both sides of the bread and spreading the jelly between them to prevent a soggy sandwich come lunchtime.)
Leftovers to the rescue. Have dinner leftovers and a whole-wheat wrap? Believe it or not, you’ve done most of the work on lunch. Leftovers from dinners like baked chicken and vegetables can be layered in a whole-wheat wrap with lettuce and tomato and wrapped up to make a great (and easy) lunch. Add a banana and a serving of low-fat yogurt to the lunchbox and you’ll be set.
Go beyond the sandwich. Just like you, kids tire of the same lunches every day. Strong4Life says switch it up with lunches like whole-wheat pasta salad, a good-for-you change from the ordinary. Mixed with fresh veggies like bell peppers, broccoli and tomatoes, kids love it. Pair it with a hard-boiled egg, a fruit cup packed in 100 percent fruit juice and low-fat milk.
I Dip, You Dip, Lunch Dips. When you’re a kid, there’s not much more fun than foods you can dip — it’s practically food you’re allowed to play with. Strong4Life’s experts suggest pairing hummus with fresh vegetables and whole-grain crackers for a hands-on lunch kids will love. Pair with grapes and some low-fat milk, and lunch is taken care of.
You want to pack a healthy, appealing lunch for your kids every day. Problem is, it’s easy to fall into a lunch rut. Who hasn’t eaten the same turkey sandwich every day for a week?
Rachel Brandeis, an Atlanta registered dietitian, works with several families seeking healthy lunches that will also entice their kids to eat. She is also mom to two teenage children who are always asking her to mix up what goes in their lunchbox. Brandeis recommends that parents talk to their kids about what they want.
“There is a lot of food waste because of the monotony,” she said. “Ask your kids: What did you eat? What did you throw away?”
She recommends giving kids choices and, as a general rule, aiming for at least three food groups in the lunchbox, i.e. protein, vegetables and whole grains.
Some of the lunches she prepares for her kids include the following: hummus and guacamole single-serving packs with baby carrots and Triscuit thin crisps to dip along with pressed fruit and vegetable bars; cheese stick or cubes, turkey pepperoni, grape tomatoes along with Triscuit thins and fresh fruit such as an apple or grapes; banana or apple slices with a peanut butter cup for dipping, Greek flavored yogurt and side of granola; a hummus wrap with a whole-grain tortilla with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and spinach leaves, Greek flavored yogurt and berries.
Joy Goetz, a dietitian at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, offers the following five tips for making a healthy lunch (see sidebar for tips on thinking outside the box from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life program).
Plan ahead. Whether you are sending a sandwich or leftovers from dinner the night before, make a plan for the week so you can streamline the process and save time during the week. If you go grocery shopping on the weekend, take a few minutes when you get home to rinse fruits and veggies and pack them into containers or baggies, so you can grab and go during the week.
Involve kids in the process. Let them decide between several healthy options. Parents can ask questions like “Would you like to have oranges, grapes or bananas in your lunch this week?” and “Which flavors of yogurt would you like?” This lets kids feel like they have a say in what goes into their lunches, and you get to curate what those options are. (P.S. This works for any meal, not just lunch.)
Rethink the drink. Healthy beverages. Although juice boxes are very popular, fruit juice can contain as much sugar as regular soda. Water and milk are still the best beverages for kids. If your child really enjoys flavored drinks, try infusing water with fruit such as oranges, strawberries, pineapple or watermelon.
Non-sandwich lunch ideas. Aiming for including at least three out of the five food groups, ideally, you would include a protein, whole grain, fruit or veggie, and low-fat dairy or dairy substitute. Here are four ideas:
- Whole-grain tortilla with sliced chicken, low-fat (2 percent) cheese and lettuce, grapes.
- Low-sodium chicken noodle soup, whole-grain crackers, baby carrots, milk.
- Hummus with veggie slices and whole-grain pretzels, low-fat (2 percent) string cheese.
- Salad with various vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, grape tomatoes, along with boiled eggs; yogurt and granola.
Safety first. If the lunch contains meat, dairy, sliced fruit or veggies, or anything you would keep in the refrigerator, be sure to include an ice pack so that food stays cold until lunchtime. You can also freeze a water bottle or use a freezable lunchbox to keep foods at a safe temperature.