Tips to provide your child with a fun, nutritious school lunch
It can be easy to overlook planning nutritious lunches. "But don't count out lunch," says Elizabeth Ward, registered dietitian, mother of three and author of "MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better: Decoding the Dietary Guidelines for Your Real Life." In fact, students who eat a nutritious, balanced diet are better prepared to learn, reports the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
"School lunch is more than just a meal - it's an opportunity for good nutrition and teaching during children's prime learning hours," says Ward. "Children are always growing and developing, both physically and mentally, so providing them with great lunch nutrition keeps them healthy in and out of the classroom."
Ward offers the following tips to help keep your child eating healthy during school hours:
- Talk to your children. Ask them what they would like to eat for lunch and teach them where food comes from. Involving children in meal planning will make the process more fun. Packing lunch with their favorite character on their lunch kit will make their meal even more enjoyable.
- Check with the school to see how close snack time is to lunch. This will help you determine how much food to pack for your children. Portion control is important for a healthy, balanced diet. Since children are smaller than adults, they should eat smaller portions, too.
- Lunch can be more than just the traditional milk, sandwich and fruit. Eating the same thing every day may get boring fast. As long as the food is healthy, you don't need to get hung up on serving a traditional lunch. Alternate cold meals and hot to keep your child's interest. If your child craves pizza, make one at home with low-fat cheese and vegetables. Use sunflower seed butter or olive oil instead of regular butter, and make sure milk, cheese and yogurt are low or nonfat. If you want to send a sandwich for lunch, try making it on a whole-wheat bagel, pita pocket or sandwich wrap.
- Give your child an alternative to sugary soda and juice drinks by packing ice water with fruit slices in a bottle. The fruit will add the sweet taste your child craves, without the added sugar. There is no nutritional value to sugary drinks, so cutting them out of your child's diet and helping them understand why you're doing so early on will benefit them in the long run.
- Provide a balanced meal. Keep kids fueled during and after school by offering essentials packed with fiber or protein, which will also help reduce snacking urges. Fiber, dairy foods, and protein-packed fare are essential to keeping kids fueled during and after school for activities, and reducing the urge to snack. Children eat what is available, so having carrot sticks and hummus available keeps kids' minds off of cookies, candy, and chips. Send protein-rich Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts or whip up a smoothie made with fruit and milk and send in an insulated straw bottle.