Giving your child a nutritious school lunch every day, is a challenge, even for the most creative parent. Many children have limited food preferences, getting them to “try” something new can be a daunting challenge.
Children, like adults, often eat with their “eyes” first. So, an attractive, colorful lunch may tempt your child to try something unfamiliar. One successful strategy used by many parents is to take your child shopping for school lunch ingredients.
Nutritionists suggest shying away from processed foods that often include high amounts of sugar and/or salt.
Providing a lunch box bursting with choices often means your child will eat more of what is good for them. Sending a cookie or other sweet snack in moderation is also important. Children want to eat what their peers are eating and a small treat will make their lunch look “complete.”
Growing children often need more of certain nutrients than adults to help their bodies and minds grow.
Protein should be the most important part of a school lunch. Protein helps a child’s growing body build cells, it helps breaks down food into energy, will assist in fighting infections and carries oxygen throughout the body. Foods containing high levels of protein include: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and dairy.
Carbohydrates are the body’s most important source of energy. For children, “carbs” are necessary to build and repair tissue. “Good carbs” include: breads, cereals, rice, crackers, pasta and potatoes.
Fats are a great source of energy for kids and are important in helping the body use other nutrients it needs. “Good fats” include whole-milk dairy products, meat, fish and nuts.
Calcium is essential to build healthy bones and teeth. It’s also important for blood clotting and for nerve, muscle and heart function. Foods include: milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, egg yolks, spinach and tofu.
Iron is necessary for a child to build healthy blood that carries oxygen to cells all over the body. Foods include: red meat, poultry, while grains, beans, nuts and iron-fortified cereals.
Vitamin A helps growth, assists the eyes in adjusting to dim and bright lights, keeps skin healthy and works to prevent infection. Foods include: carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, spinach, fish oils and egg yolks.
Vitamin C holds the body’s cells together, strengthens the walls of blood vessels, helps the body heal wounds and boosts the immune system. Foods include: citrus fruits (such as oranges), strawberries, tomatoes, melons, spinach, papayas and mangos.
Five for Five
Here are five school lunches that include the five food groups and important nutrients. Make sure your child is able to purchase milk at school to drink at lunch. Some schools now prohibit nuts in school lunches because of classmates with nut allergies, check with your child’s school about its policy on nuts.
Make sure to have small baggies and containers on hand to pack each food separately. Also, add a “cold pack” (or a frozen bottle of water) to your child’s lunch if you are concerned about keeping some foods at a safe serving temperature.
Adjust portion sizes to suit the age of your child. A few pieces, a child-size handful or half a sandwich can be enough food for very young children. It is the variety of foods included that is important, more than quantity of each item.
Ham (or turkey) and cheese roll ups, mixed berries (in season), yogurt (squeezable or cup), edamame, shelled peanuts, almonds, cashews or mixed nuts, hard-boiled egg, carrot sticks with ranch dip and chocolate chip cookie.
Cold chicken-cheese quesadilla on corn tortillas, three-bean salad, hummus with pita chips, string cheese stick, cherry tomatoes, Clementine or Mandarin orange, sliced pears and animal “crackers.”
Smashed white bean and avocado sandwich on whole wheat bread, red and orange (no green) peppers cut into strips, cold roasted green beans, olive oil marinated mozzarella balls, sliced kiwi fruit, shelled peanuts, almonds, cashews, or mixed nuts, sliced apples with caramel dip.
Turkey, provolone cheese and corn kernels on a sun-dried tomato wrap, crunchy chickpeas and black beans, orange slices, green or red grapes, mild cheddar cheese cubes with whole grain crackers, baby carrots with ranch dip, banana and pudding cup.
To make crunchy chickpeas and black beans. Preheat oven to 400F. Spread chickpeas on one baking sheet and black beans on a second sheet. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Bake 25-30 minutes. Remove black beans and bake chickpeas an additional 15-20 minutes. Cool the beans and combine them for serving.
Selection of pinwheel roll up sandwiches: 1 turkey and cheese on wheat bread, 1 spinach and cream cheese on a flour tortilla, 1 hummus, cucumber and avocado on a spinach wrap, celery sticks with ranch dip (or peanut butter if the school allows it), blueberries, sliced jicama, baked sweet potato sticks, yogurt (squeezable or cup), fresh mango or papaya slices and granola bar.
You can experiment with different flavors, try exotic foods that your child’s friends might have in their lunches and encourage your child to assist in the lunch preparation process.