The school-lunch challenge: giving the kids a nourishing lunch they won't want to trade for a cupcake. What's a parent to do?
Get the Kids Involved
Let the kids play with their food: dipping fruit, vegetables, crackers, or bread in sauces; assembling bite-size cheese and cracker sandwiches; or making tiny fruit kabobs on toothpicks.
Keep fruits and vegetables small and easy to eat: grapes, cherries, small plums, blueberries, melon cubes, baby carrots, cucumber slices, bell pepper strips and lightly steamed or blanched broccoli florets.
Get them involved with planning and making lunches because they're more likely to eat it if they helped pack it. After all, you won't be there to lay down the "three more bites before you can leave the table" law.
Variety is the Spice of Lunch
Include enough range to keep your kids from getting bored, but don't be surprised if they settle on a few favorites and request them week after week. Kids like to have a few familiar, comforting things nearby when they are away from home.
Give them some choices from each food group, and allow them to mix and match for a nutritionally-balanced lunch.
Beyond sliced bread, try crackers, pita bread, naan, corn bread, English muffins, tortillas, baked tortilla chips, mini bagels, or lettuce wraps.
For protein, there's good ol' peanut butter, but the kids might also enjoy hummus, bean dip, sliced cheese, yogurt, cold cuts, tuna salad, pasta salad, egg salad, or a thermos full of chili.
When serving tuna, egg, chicken, or pasta salad, mix in shredded carrots, apples, zucchini, bell peppers, raisins, nuts--anything to add nutrition and fiber without adding lots of empty calories.
About food safety: lightweight, freezable cold packs or frozen juice boxes enable you to send the kids to school with perishables such as pasta salad, egg salad, meat sandwiches, yogurt, tuna, etc.
Get your kids into the habit of washing their hands before eating. Include antibacterial hand wipes if that's what it takes.
Make lunches the night before to ease the morning rush out the door.
Reusable lunchboxes are earth-friendly and save the expense of brown bags, but be sure to wash them out frequently.
You've heard this one before, but a little note from you tucked into a lunch once in a while is a comfort. Keep notes small enough so kids don't have to haul out a long, loving letter from home in front of the rest of the lunchroom.
When you pack nutritious lunches you know your kids will love, you might even feel okay about slipping a little dessert into the bag!