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Preparing healthy school lunches that get eaten, not discarded

healthy box lunch

Packing school lunches can become a monotonous task for parents and kids alike as they can quickly tire of typical lunch fare, but it’s important that parents be aware of the sugar content in prepackaged foods.

“They may be easier to throw in the lunch bag quickly, but they can have long term consequences on your child's health,” says Via Christi pediatrician Amy Seery, MD, noting that the American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of sugar each day for children 2 years old to 18 years old.

Here’s a few other tips from the American Dietetic Association in creating nutritious and delicious school lunches for your children:

Put your kids in the chef’s seat

  • When kids help plan their lunches, they are much more likely to eat them. If your child’s school has a lunch program, review the menus together and pick the ones he or she enjoys.
  • When kids eat school lunch, they are more likely to consume milk, meats, grains and vegetables, which gives them a higher nutrient intake over the course of an entire day.
  • If your child is more likely to eat a lunch packed at home, create a system that works for both of you. Agree on what goes into every lunch: some protein, a grain, at least one fruit and veggie, a dairy product (if not buying milk at school) and an optional small sweet or snack item.
  • Make a checklist or spreadsheet of what your child likes in each category and take time on the weekend to prepare and bag easy, ‘on-the-go’ meals for each day.

Offer choices

  • Variety is the basis of well-balanced nutrition. But don’t worry if a child wants the same lunch two weeks in a row. He or she will probably change to something else before long.
  • Work around normal pickiness by creating a list of alternatives. For example, if sandwiches are in the “don’t like” column, what else might work? You might consider wraps, cracker sandwiches, little salads with protein or bread-free sandwiches, such as a slice of lunch meat wrapped around a cheese stick. Get creative.

Focus on eye appeal

  • Kids, like adults, eat with their eyes first. They are attracted to foods by the packaging, so make sure the lunch you prepare for them looks attractive.
  • Make foods as bright and colorful as possible. Have fun with shapes (use cookie cutters on sandwiches) and size (make mini-muffins).
  • Choose a reusable lunch bag or box with favorite cartoon characters or colors.

Another simple trick to help your child consume more fruits and veggies, says Dr. Seery, is to cut them up beforehand. Consider providing dipping options as well such as peanut butter for apples and a low sugar dressing for carrots.

If you have concerns about your child’s eating, talk with your pediatrician. To find a pediatrician or family medicine specialist, go to viachristi.org/doctors.

About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Via Christi Health.