In these days of increased awareness about nutrition and childhood obesity, many parents are choosing to make their child’s lunch rather than letting them eat the food schools provide. When you pack a lunch for your child to take to school, you are the one who decides how healthy it is. You can cater to your child’s taste -- particularly helpful for picky eaters -- and you can save money.
PB & J
The perennial childhood sandwich favorite, peanut-butter-and-jelly (or plain old peanut butter) is actually quite healthy. Peanut butter is nutritious and delicious and packed with protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter has about 7 g of protein, which is 36 percent of the amount a kindergartner needs and 13 percent of what a high school senior requires every day. The fat in peanut butter is the healthy kind. By making the sandwich on whole wheat or whole grain bread, you provide your child a complete protein, with all the amino acids the body needs for cells, tissues and organs to function. Jelly is not bad either, as long as you do not use too much of it. Use a fruit spread, which typically has fewer grams of sugar per tablespoon than traditional jam or jelly.
Meat & Cheese
Sandwiches are a lunchbox staple, and you can vary your child’s lunch with turkey and cheese sandwiches, grains, dairy and protein. Use creamy ranch dressing instead of a swipe of mustard or mayo. You can also add dairy and protein to the lunchbox with string cheese or a container of cottage cheese. For some crunch that does not come from chips, throw in a few whole wheat crackers to dip into the cottage cheese; raw veggies paired with a tasty dip work just as well. If you do pack meat and/or cheese into the lunchbox, be sure to add an icepack to keep them cool.
Fruits & Vegetables
Bananas, apples and grapes are self-contained and full of nutrients. Bananas are high in fiber, potassium and vitamin C. Apples are high in fiber and vitamin C. Grapes, while not that high in fiber, are an excellent source of vitamin C. To top it off, none of these fruits are messy, and they do not require a fork to eat them as cubed fruits do. On the vegetable side, baby carrots and grape tomatoes lend themselves well to lunchboxes because they are easy to handle. Grape tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, and carrots are chock-full of the vitamin A so important to healthy eyesight, skin and growth. Include a single-serving cup of dressing for dipping.
Milk, Juice & Water
Low-fat or non-fat milk is the better choice over juice for health, though not necessarily for lunchbox ease. Milk, usually fortified with vitamins A and D, is one of the best sources for calcium. Milk is especially important to keep cold in a lunchbox, but your child may also be able to purchase a carton of milk in the school lunch line. If you want to go the juice box route, 100 percent fruit juice is the choice to make to avoid added sugars. But refreshing water is the best drink of all. It flushes toxins from the body, carries nutrients to the cells and prevents dehydration.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Nutrition for Everyone -- Protein
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fruit and Vegetable of the Month -- Banana
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fruit and Vegetable of the Month -- Apple
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fruit and Vegetable of the Month -- Grapes
- Dairy Council of California: Milk
- Mayo Clinic: Nutrition and Healthy Eating -- Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?
- BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images