Ditch the junk foods and switch to tempting plant-based fixings in your kids’ lunch boxes, thanks to these seven tips for packing healthy kids’ lunches from the nutritionists.
These frozen sugary sandwiches and mini packets of crackers and chips may offer an easy fix for quick and simple kids’ lunch boxes, but they’re hardly the way to healthy eating to fuel young minds and bodies. Your kids need to pack servings of healthy foods during their midday break, including whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Day in and day out, these choices will fuel playtime, academic focus, and physical and cognitive development.
I spoke to top registered dietitians to get their own strategies for how to fill your kids’ lunch boxes with the healthy foods your kids will actually eat! Try these tips, and let me know how they work for you.
7 Tips for Packing Healthy Kids Lunches
1. Work with your child rather than against it. Keep in mind that every baby is unique, and that they go through eating phases and eating bouts. What they may have been in love with last year, may be forbidden this year! So choose your fights wisely and work with the foods they love, in proper portions. “For my child, it’s a matter of a lot of things. Like most kids, she has likes and dislikes. So, I fill small reusable containers of small portions of black olives, baby carrots, hummus, and homemade flaxen chocolate chip cookies.” If I don’t expect her to eat a lot of one thing but small amounts of a few things, then we’re happy.” Jean Lamantiaresearch and development.
2. Recreate a winning meal. If you know your child adores a certain healthy dish, whether it’s the grilled vegetable roll with hummus from your local sandwich shop or the taco bowl at Taco Tuesday Night at home, try recreating that experience in the lunchbox. “My daughter loves getting salads from places where she chooses add-ins, so I try to recreate her ‘salad scene’ at home. Her perfect lunch is romaine lettuce—I chop it up to get more in the container, avocado, edamame, and corn kernels with a little lime juice. And a drizzle of olive oil. Vegetables, protein, healthy fats…in a BPA-free disposable container!” says Wendy KaplanMS, RDN, CDN.
3. Don’t forget the classic kids’ favorite. It’s great to try an occasional à la carte selection, such as avocado toast or an acai bowl, in your child’s lunch box every now and then. But don’t let that overshadow the classic baby favorites that are just beginning to emerge! “I go for the soft, whole-grain Monkey Club bread, and smooth peanut butter, with thin slices of banana. Favorite sides: Baby carrots, dried pea snacks, and clementines for dessert,” says Emily Kaminer, MPH, RDN of Detroit Diet.
4. Include children in making lunch. How can your child make a fuss about lunch if he is involved in decision-making and mobilization? Let them have a little fun with lunch packaging. Lots of little things make lunch more enjoyable! Fruit: blueberries, diced watermelon, strawberries, grapes, raisins/dried cranberries, or apple juice. Vegetables: carrots, cucumber slices, red pepper, dip or salad; protein: cashews, almonds, or PB On bread or tortillas, hummus with veggies, black beans or beans. Allowing my daughter to choose how to cut her veggies also makes things fun. She has a divided container that she likes to fill, and she also likes small snack bags, both rectangular and square” Sarah ChapelRDN, CDE.
5. Put the fun in your lunch foods. Why serve plain apples and raisins, when you can make an apple face with raisin eyes (cut the apples into vertical slices in the shape of a face, spread them with peanut butter, and add raisins for the eyes and mouth)? There are many ways you can make traditional standby more adventurous — and tempting. “I used to pack my daughters’ hummus carts. Take a whole wheat tortilla, spread out your favorite hummus, and add a few spinach leaves. Roll up and cut into 2-inch spirals. Serve with baby carrots and other vegetables or fruits on the side,” says Lisa Ciciarelo Andrews, RDN, from Proper nutrition.
6. Think beyond Sammie. Who says that fun and healthy foods for kids should be limited to between two slices of bread? Why not make a cereal bowl, chunky or chili soup, or pasta? “Cooked pasta made from whole wheat, brown or wild rice is a good base. You can then add cooked vegetables, beans, lentils, and spices. Use a thermos to keep the meal hot.” Melissa Altman TroupMS, RDN, LDN.
7. Don’t forget children like beans. Do you think your son will not eat beans? Well, hummus. Kids love this very interactive dip, made with… beans. This is just the tip of the iceberg. “I use beans in a variety of ways. I often crunch black beans with avocado in sprouted tortillas for no-cook quesadillas and rely on bean-based pastas too. It’s easy to mix cooked spinach with either,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD , LDN Kelly Jones Nutrition.
For other kid-friendly vegan recipes, try some of my favorites:
Microwave cup with apple and vegan caramel flavor
Carrot cake with overnight oats
Easy Cauliflower Hummus Taco
Sunshine Roll Orange, Whole Wheat & Cinnamon
Peach Yogurt Parfait
Corn and quinoa soup
Zucchini and Carrot Seasoning Muffin
picture: Crunchy cherry sunflower seed rollSharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN