If you or your kids have nightmares about school cafeteria lunches, or if your children’s school cafeteria offers less-than-healthy choices, packing your children’s lunch is an antidote to bad dreams and bad nutrition. Make healthy food choices available at breakfast and dinner, too, and they’ll be less likely to trade their lunches for options that might seem tastier but are filled with empty calories.
All human beings need good nutrition, but growing children, especially, need to eat balanced, healthy meals. Share the U.S. Department of Agriculture's My Plate graphic with your children to show them the proper way to fill their plates, and how that translates into what ends up in their lunch bag. Half their plates should be filled with colorful vegetables and fruits, and at least 1/3 of their plate should have healthy whole-grain breads or cereals. A small serving of lean meat or fish, or other proteins such as nuts or legumes, round out the plate. Add one low-fat serving of dairy, and your children have the makings of a healthy and filling meal.
Veggies and Fruits
Have your children help assemble resealable bags or containers of servings of chopped carrots or celery, or even lightly steamed asparagus tips or broccoli. Let the kids do the choosing, so there won’t be any fussing when it comes time to pack the lunch bag, but let them choose between healthy options you recommend. Include a single serving cup of creamy dressing for dipping vegetables. Fruit segments, frozen berries, natural applesauce, and dried apricots and bananas are all appropriate lunch choices that can be pre-assembled and packaged. The fruit also makes a yummy add-in or for yogurt.
Dairy and Grains
Yogurt or cottage cheese are kid-friendly and healthy options. If you’ve trained your children to bring home resealable containers, skip the pre-packaged choices and use the less-expensive option of filling your own containers. String cheese or low-fat cubes of cheese provide dairy and are fun finger foods to pull out of the bag. Whole-wheat bread and crackers round out the servings necessary for a healthy lunch.
At the grocery store, take the time to read labels and nutrition information. Avoid highly processed, sodium-rich and carlorie-laden proteins. Lean turkey or chicken breast available at your deli counter can be shaved to make your food budget stretch farther and to fill up your children faster. Celery sticks filled with peanut butter pack a powerhouse of protein and the meal is fun to eat. If your children are adventurous, toss a serving size of edamame into a resealable bag and you’ll offer a protein rich in vitamins, too.
Packing healthy lunches can take a toll on your food budget, so take 15 to 20 minutes to sit down with your kids and look through weekly circulars together. Ask one of the children to read the specials to you, whether he is an emerging reader or at the head of his elementary-school class. For young children, the connection between the item’s image and the word helps strengthen reading skills. You’ll be able to craft a list of items to have on hand in the refrigerator and pantry so the week’s lunches are easy to grab and pack, and easy on your pocketbook.
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