Lunch can comprise one-third of your children’s nutrition for the day, so it’s important to pick nutrient-rich foods that fuel their brain and bodies for the afternoon. However, it’s easy to get those brown bag blues! Here are our best tips for getting your children to eat a healthy lunch and saving time while doing it.
1. Involve your children with choosing, planning and preparing their lunches.
Even though you try to include healthy foods in your children’s lunch bags, they may not actually eat it when lunchtime comes. If you involve your children in making their lunch, they will be more excited about eating their own creations.
- Let your kids choose their own fun, colorful lunch bag or lunch box.
- Sit down with your child and teach them the importance of including a protein, grain, at least one fruit and veggie and a dairy product at each meal. Check out the USDA’s MyPlate website for fun coloring pages and colorful printables.
- Make a checklist of the specific foods your child likes in each category; this will save time and money when grocery shopping.
- Before your weekly grocery shopping trip, let you child circle the foods he or she would like from each category for their lunches in the coming week.
- Assemble the lunches together the night before to reduce stress in the morning.
- Make the day extra special by adding a surprise, like a healthy sweet treat, stickers or a personalized note.
2. Make healthy foods more appealing.
Kids eat with their eyes first. If it looks interesting and fun, they are more likely to eat it.
- Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches into fun shapes like dinosaurs and hearts.
- Make miniature sandwiches using slider buns or mini bagels or prepare mini muffins. Kid’s love eating with their hands; smaller foods are much more fun to eat.
- Choose colorful fruits and veggies, and include dips like low-fat ranch, salsa, peanut butter or hummus. Make your own protein- and calcium-packed dip with low-fat Greek yogurt. Try adding herbs for a veggie dip or cinnamon and honey for a quick and easy fruit dip.
- Make lunch interactive. Pack an English muffin, marinara pizza sauce, cheese and different veggies for pizza, or pack corn tortillas, beans, cheese and salsa for tacos.
3. Encourage your kids to try new foods.
Exotic fruit, like carambola (star fruit), kiwi, mango and papaya can add excitement to healthy eating. Let your child pick out a new fruit or vegetable in the produce department to show off to their friends at lunchtime.
4. Use leftovers to stretch your food budget and add variety to the lunchbox menu.
Be creative with leftovers, and turn them into something new. Take leftover cooked pasta from last night, and add some salad dressing and a few chopped veggies to make a quick pasta salad. Combine leftover cooked meat with fresh vegetables in a colorful spinach wrap.
5. Keep food at a safe temperature to avoid foodborne illness.
Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “danger zone” (between 40 and 140°F). Perishable food transported without a cold source won’t stay safe for long. Place an ice pack in your child’s insulated lunch box alongside sandwiches with cheese or meat, yogurt and other perishable foods to keep everything at a safe temperature. If you don’t have an ice pack on hand, freeze juice boxes or a water bottle. To keep hot foods hot, use an insulated thermos for soup, chili or stew. Some foods can be packed at room temperature, such as whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese (safe for up to 4 hours), canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.
Need more help packing healthy lunches? Check out the eMeals Healthy Lunch Plan for 5 lunch recipes plus a bonus packable dessert and shopping list each week.
Check out our printable PDF guide to Quick, Healthy Snacks on the Go.