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Challenge: Lunchbox Hero

Beat the Lunch Box Blues

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Often summer break is when a family’s healthy eating plan takes a vacation. So as summer ends and the school year nears, it is time to refocus efforts to ensure the whole families nutrition habits are ready for the year ahead. The task of packing healthy lunches for your kids — and hoping that they actually eat them — can be a daunting challenge and sometimes cause for the lunch box blues. What parents pack in lunch boxes is important because the foods chosen will fuel your child with the energy and nutrients needed to make it through a busy day in and out of the classroom. If you are anticipating a case of the lunch box blues, here are a few ideas that might be useful:

  • Use the MyPlate nutrition guide. This can be a good tool if you need help to visualize your child’s meal. The graphic looks like a place setting, showing about ½ of the meal to be fruits and vegetables, ¼ whole grains and the other quarter a high-quality protein. Mix it up in order to keep lunches fun and interesting.
  • Start an ongoing list of items in each group that your child currently eats, build upon it over time, and use that list to guide you on what to pack them for lunch. Sometimes it’s helpful to create a list of at least five lunches that work for your child and rotate them, this not only facilitates easier shopping and planning, but reduces the stress of packing lunches.
  • Store foods in easy-to-open containers and pack them in a way that maintains their quality. Some protein containing foods can pose a food safety risk if not kept at a cool temperature, so use a thermal lunchbox or an ice pack.
  • To encourage fruit and vegetable consumption, cut into bite-size pieces or include a protein packed “dip”.
  • Add variation to the standard sandwich by switching up the base. Some items to consider are whole-grain mini bagels, pita pockets, tortilla wrappers and mini buns.
  • Don’t forget that it’s also important for kiddos to rehydrate on their lunch break, rather than a pouch or can of a sugary beverage, the best solution is to include a refillable chilled bottle of good old H2 O.

You are the boss, but empower your child by letting them help decide what goes into the lunch box. Here are a few items that are on both my “easy-to pack and nutritious list” and my kids “yes, mom I will actually eat that” list:

  1. Sandwich alternatives: My daughter isn’t a fan of the traditional lunchbox sandwich, so we’ve had to come up with other options for balancing protein, carbs and fat to create a healthful lunch. Our list includes hard-boiled eggs, yogurt with nuts or granola for topping, apples with peanut butter for dip, carrots and sugar-snap peas with hummus, cheese and salami with crackers, a banana with a side of mixed nuts, roll-ups on a wheat tortilla with either ham & cream cheese or peanut butter with sliced bananas or apples.
  2. Leftovers: Depending on what was on the previous night’s dinner menu, leftovers often work for the next day’s lunchbox. Try leftover soups, pasta or rice packed in a thermal container to keep them warm or packed in a microwave safe container with an ice pack to keep cold if your child happens to have access to a microwave. Leftover pizza or California Rolls are also crowd favorites!
  3. Convenience foods: Let’s face it, many families rely on convenience foods to fill up their lunch boxes because of the very reason that their name implies! Not all of these quick fixes are evil, look for fruit leather that is 100% fruit, pretzels, graham crackers, applesauce cups/squeezers, dried fruit/nuts, tubes of yogurt (freeze them!) etc. Be careful when it comes to bars because they are certainly not all created equally and many are loaded with sugar, look for bars which have protein and fiber plus contain real foods like nuts, fruit, and whole grains. For a treat, I often opt for Power Sours® , a lunch box ready packet of multivitamin gummies loaded with vitamin C for immune support!

Bottom-line is that if you plan ahead a little and make your kids part of the process, you can easily prepare healthful lunches that will make both you and your child happy and fuel a smooth transition into the new school year!

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