By Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N
When my sons were in school, I always made brown bag lunches for them. In high school, they usually took extra money to enhance the lunch that I provided because they were growing boys who needed lot of extra calories. Trying to come up with lunch choices that would taste good by noon after being stuck in their warm locker all morning was a challenge. But, today’s children have more options to keep their brown bag lunches at an optimal temperature. Food safety has become paramount. But the bottom line is what you pack for your child must be something they will actually eat. If they are trading the lunch you pack or simply not eating it – what’s the point. Here’s some suggestions.
Rules for Packing Lunches for Your Kids That They Will Actually Eat
- Talk with your child about lunch likes and dislikes and what works and what doesn’t. A bag lunch is different from a fresh lunch.
- Get your children involved with the process. Don’t send things the child does not like.
- Come up with a list of foods that your child would like to eat at lunch – not one that you want him/her to eat. The trading game is very popular.
- Rotate the lunches so your child will not tire of the same old thing – plus a variety of foods offer a variety of nutrients.
- Purchase an insulated lunch box to ensure that foods are kept at their proper temperature and wash it routinely to prevent bacteria buildup.
- Pack hot foods in a thermos – as long as your child can remember to bring it home.
- Keep cold foods cold by using an ice pack or freezing juice boxes. Juices will be thawed out by lunchtime and will be good and cold to drink, too.
- Stay away from pre-packed lunch-ables – they are high in fat and calories and low in nutrients. They are expensive as well.
- Keep the lunch simple.
• Use a variety of breads: bagels, rolls, pita pockets, English Muffins, raisin or multigrain bread.
• For the younger children, you can use cookie cutters such as a star or triangle to make some designer sandwiches that will be fun to eat.
• Luncheon meats – lean cuts of turkey, ham, or roast beef. For the artistic parent of a younger child, you can get thicker cuts of meat and use a cookie cutter to design the protein source as well as the bread.
• Chicken, tuna or egg salad using light mayonnaise or salad dressing. Besides using bread you can serve in a pita pocket or in a small cup or container.
• Add raisins, Cinnamon Trail Mix (see recipe below) or granola to add some pizzaz to the plain peanut butter and jelly sandwich for added nutrients and added crunch.
• To boost the protein and calcium in the lunch, pack a slice of string cheese or add
cheese slices to the sandwiches.
• You can also add a container of yogurt which will boost the protein and calcium content. Yogurt can also serve as a dessert.
• Pack raw vegetables such as carrot, peppers, cucumbers or celery sticks. Serve with fat free plain yogurt dip or fat free sour cream dip which provides a good source of calcium (Fat Free Flavored Dip see recipe below).
• Add vegetables slices to the sandwiches such as tomatoes, green, red or yellow peppers and a deep green lettuce or spinach to boost the nutrient content of the sandwich.
Healthy Snacks for Healthy Kids
Snacking is an important part of growing up. Growing kids need to snack but making good snack choices is a challenge especially since there are many not so good snacks on the market. And, kids see all those enticing commercials on TV that offer some very poor snack choices. Parents are often pressured into purchasing these types of snacks as a result. But, keep in mind parents are in the drivers seat, not the children. You are the gate keeper as to what comes into the house to eat.
Whole-wheat crackers like Triskets® (you can reduced fat ones, too)
Spicy Cinnamon Trail Mix (see recipe below)
Frosted miniWheats® (made with whole grains)
Yogurt (you can add whole grain Grape Nuts® for an added crunch and extra nutrients)
Homemade tortilla chips, bagel chips or pita crisps with chunky salsa or with Fat
Free Flavored Dip (see recipe below)
Frozen Fruit Nuggets (see recipe below)
Fruit Smoothies (fresh fruit, yogurt, milk, ice and put in a blender)
Pizza Bagel – add a little pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh veggies then place under broiler until heated
Makes: 1 serving
Nutritional Information: 296 calories, 9 gram of fat, 4 grams of fiber, 259 milligrams of sodium, 8 grams of protein, 51 grams of carbohydrate, 69 milligrams of calcium
Preparation time: 5 minutes
¼ cup Wheat Chex
¼ cup Corn Chex
¼ cup pretzels
¼ cup raisins
2 tablespoons peanuts
Combine all the ingredients in bag. Shake it up. Then enjoy!
Frozen Fruit Nuggets
Grapes, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches or other fruits.
Clean as needed. Cut fruit into bite-sized pieces. Spread fruit on a cookie sheet and cover. Put into freezer for 1 hour. Place individual pieces into baggies and store in the frezzer. (You can also buy frozen fruit in the frozen section of your supermarket. Make sure they have no added sugar)
Cinnamon Trail Mix
Makes: 10 servings
Nutritional Information: 156 calories, 2 gram of fat, 2 grams of fiber, 222 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of protein, 33 grams of carbohydrate, 45 milligrams of calcium
Preparation time: 5 minutes Baking time: 20 minutes
3 cups oat squares cereal
3 cups mini-pretzels
2 tablespoons margarine, melted
1 tablespoon brown sugar packed
½ – ¾ teaspoon cinnamon*
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit
*If you like the cinnamon taste – use more cinnamon.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine the oat squares in a large plastic bag or plastic container with a lid. Melt margarine. Add brown sugar and cinnamon to melted margarine. Mix well. Pour this mixture over the cereal mixture. Mix well by gently shaking until well coated. Pour mixture onto a baking sheet. Bake uncovered for 15 – 20 minutes stirring once or twice. Completely cool. Then add raisins or other dried fruit. Store in airtight container or small zip-lock individual bags.
Fat-Free Flavored Dip
Makes: 16 – 2 tablespoon servings
Nutritional Information: 25 calories, 0 gram of fat, 0 grams of fiber, 260 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrate, 40 milligrams of calcium
Preparation time: 5 minutes
1 eight-ounce container of fat-free plain yogurt or sour cream
(you can use reduced fat or light yogurt or sour cream as well)
1 package of onion soup mix, vegetable dip mix or other mixes
Combine yogurt/sour cream with package mix and blend well. Serve with veggies, baked tortilla chips, bagel chips or pita crisps.
Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N., is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in clinical nutrition. The former publisher of Kentuckiana HealthFitness Magazine, Kentuckiana Healthy Woman magazine and radio show host of Health News You Can Use, Barbara has over 30 years of experience in promoting healthy lifestyles to consumers. Barbara worked as Nutrition Consultant to the Navy SEALs (8 years) and the University of Louisville Athletic Department (10 years). Barbara has private practice, DayByDay Nutrition, www.DayByDayNutrition.com, where she counsels clients on weight loss, cholesterol management, performance nutrition and an array of other medical issues. Visit Barbara’s new website which is an on-line health & wellness magazine, www.KentuckianaHEALTHWellness.com. Barbara writes nutrition and health columns for www.LiveStrong.com as well as a weekly nutrition column for the Southeast Outlook. She also designs and presents employee wellness programs to small and large businesses. Barbara is a runner, cyclist, hiker and a mother and grandmother to 11 grandchildren.