Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Healthy Children's Lunches

We all want healthy children, right? Our goal is to raise children who will choose a healthy lifestyle for themselves. Part of raising healthy children is teaching them to make good choices about food selection. Realistically, we are not going to plan our littles' meals forever! So, the sooner we help them make their own wise choices, the better.

The teaching process can be fun! How about starting by preparing lunches with your children? Make it a family project! By giving your children a part in selecting and making their school lunches, you...
  • Ensure that they will eat what you send!
  • Provide a setting for talking about food groups and nutrition.
  • Help to teach how to make healthy choices.
  • Take an opportunity to have fun in the kitchen with your child!

Here is a simple plan of action:

  1. With your children, make a list of foods that they would want to take to school (and a few they need to learn to like). Help your children with variety.
  2. With your children, categorize your food ideas into fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy treats.
  3. Let your children plan a series of balanced lunches choosing foods from each category. Please don't forget the fresh veggies and fruits!
  4. Do your grocery shopping accordingly.
  5. Each evening, let your children help in putting together their lunches. You may want to do some preparation in advance so that each evening is more simple.

Here are some packable options:

Vegetables that are easily cut and bagged, such as carrot sticks, celery, bell pepper, cucumber, grape tomatoes and sugar snap peas. Of course, you want to work with what your children like WHILE stretching their preferences gradually.

Vegetables and Fruit

Fruits that travel well, such as apple slices, pear slices, grapes, tangerines or clementines, plums and berries. I didn't include bananas because I have memories of bruised bananas in my lunch bag... eeewww. Unless fruit snacks are made with 100% whole fruit, I would stay away from them entirely. Even when they are 100% fruit, they should really be considered a treat.

Close-up of Cut and Uncut Fresh Fruit

Dairy choices may include cheese sticks or yogurt cups, or a thermos of real milk. (The cheese might end up on a sandwich, of course.) It is quite simple to make your own yogurt at home. Adding some all-fruit jam to homemade yogurt is the best way to avoid the highly sugared store bought options. Or, purchase plain yogurt and add in the all-fruit jam. If you freeze yogurt in child-sized portions, it will be thawed and cold for lunch without a cooler.

Protein choices can include, nut butters, cheese (again), a boiled egg, chemical-free lunch meats, or even hummus. (Hummus is a favorite here -- My kids love anything for dipping their vegetables in!).

Complex Carbohydrates are usually the whole grains we use to make the proteins portable. Kids especially love their sandwich items wrapped up in whole grain tortillas... so much better than sliced bread! Other options are pita breads, whole grain rolls or even whole grain bagels.

Treats may include Granola Cookies, trail mix with a few chocolate chips and plenty of nuts, or popcorn. The key here is to try and balance all sugars with plenty of protein. Also, by staying away from prepackaged snacks and desserts, you will be avoiding most preservatives and non-food ingredients.

We want to keep things simple, but don't skimp on variety. Children will keep their interest in healthy foods longer if it stays exciting (and if you give them choices along the way). Sometimes a bean burrito, a turkey roll-up or a hummus and veggie stuffed pita sounds so much better than a peanut butter and honey sandwich, right?

Personal Note: I am a homeschooling mom, so my kids and I all work together to put our lunches on the table. These lunch projects have been a very useful learning tool! I've adapted my at-home practices to fit school lunches because of a friend who asks "how can I help my son be healthy, even at school?" If you have any suggestions about packable, wholesome foods that your children enjoy, please comment to leave your ideas for my sweet friend!

Photo Credits: Allposters.com


HappyHermit said...

Wonderful Post !! I just did a Post on Spinach , I guess you could use the same tactics for ANY food. My parents found that after i watched the kids for 3 months they came home to children that could shop , prepare and choose their own foods wisely !!

Thank you for taking the time to share.

Melanie and Josh said...

a question I've been meaning to ask...what tactic do you use for boiling your eggs? I've tried several different ways and most of them end up with the greenish yolks and too strong tasting...or underdone, which is even worse. I'd love for Jack to eat boiled eggs, but he won't under these circumstances.

Noel said...

I've found that by letting my children take part in food preparation they are more willing to try new foods they probably wouldn't have if they had not touched it and fixed it themselves!

{ L } said...

I'm excited to find your blog as I'm trying to help my family be more healthy. I've been needing lunch ideas too, so this is perfect!

Amy Ellen said...

Hi Mel!

I don't have a special trick with eggs. I have seen so many I wouldn't know where to start in trying them! I've even seen a YouTube video where you can blow the egg out of its shell!

All I do is cover the eggs with cold water. Bring to a boil. Start timing when the bubbles are coming consistently. Continue boiling for ten minutes. Rinse in cold water immediately. As long as I look at the time, we have perfectly done eggs.

Like I said, I know some methods say to take the eggs off the stove and cover them to let them cook slowly... I just stick with what works for us!

Hope this helps... Love, ae

Orange Patch Dairy said...

Thanks for including dairy in your kids' lunches! Remember to have 3 servings of dairy each day to ensure good health! Milk, yogurt, and low fat cheese are all great options! As a dairy farmer I thank you!

Emily B said...

Sure-fire favorites of my 6-year-old daughter:
String cheese
Baby carrots and hummus
Roasted pumpkin seeds (lightly tossed in powdered Ranch dressing mix)
Raw, unsalted almonds
Cinnamon apples (1 sliced apple + 1/2 tsp. sugar + 1 tsp. ground cinnamon)

Anonymous said...

I noticed my son is willing to eat ALL the healthy foods IF I allow him to prepare it himself (with Mommy's help of course). It really does the trick! He is so proud of his meal that he eats every crumb :o) lovin' it!