Tiny Bites Tuesday: Healthier Packable Lunches for Kids

September 13, 2016

Good nutrition and eating habits for life start in the home; therefore, it is important to understand as a parent or caregiver, you are a role model for your children. By setting the foundation for your child’s nutrition, you can be confident in knowing you are an integral part of their growth and development. These series of blog posts each “Tiny Bite Tuesday” will help parents and caregivers gain some tips, tricks, tools, and education on building healthy habits at home, at school, or during challenging moments: intro to soft foods, picky eating, food allergies, how to eat more fruits and veggies, teen health, appetite, and what on earth to pack for lunch or what are some new ideas to have for dinner. [fancyTitle title="Healthier Packable Lunches for Kids" /] In this first post, since we are entering a brand new school year, deciding on healthy lunch ideas might be difficult to some, but following some simple steps will help. And how do you do it will help your children understand THEY are a part of the process too. When it comes to tiny bodies it is important to supply them with protein for muscle growth, calcium for strong bones and teeth, carbohydrates for brain and body energy needs, and fruits and veggies for vitamins and fiber. As you are creating a lunch, think about these components not just at lunch, but for all meals and snacks. This will help ensure you are getting an array of nutrients a growing body needs. Protein Ideal protein is low in saturated fat and likeable to their palate. If providing a cooler, include grilled chicken breast slices, low-fat turkey slices, lean roast beef, peanut butter (if in a nut-friendly school) or other nut butters, of if growing up vegetarian – some tofu or edamame. If a piece of lean meat or a sandwich doesn’t do the trick, try adding a lean turkey or beef jerky. Limited on time? Prepare oven baked meats/poultry on Sunday evenings and store in the fridge for the rest of the week, portioned out. If your child isn’t into meats at all, at least make sure to provide some other type of protein source like nuts, beans, Greek yogurt, or a carton of low-fat milk or chocolate milk (whichever they are willing to drink). Carbohydrate/Whole Grains Adding whole grain bread to lean meats/low-fat and low-sodium deli meats is an obvious way to add whole grains to their lunch. You can also think about other ways to make a sandwich like using an English muffin, a whole grain tortilla (wrap), whole-wheat pita, or a bagel. Not into sandwiches? Adding a hearty whole grain like popcorn, whole grain pretzels or crackers would be good. If your child has a sweet tooth, adding a granola bar, animal crackers or graham crackers is an excellent idea. Other Sunday prep ideas can be whole wheat noodles, rice, and quinoa. Make on the stovetop while the meat is cooking in the oven! Calcium for Strong Bones Low-fat milk is a great choice for lunch, as are cheeses, yogurt, low-fat pudding and cottage cheese. If cheese on a sandwich isn’t ideal, string cheese can be fun! Other dairy-free options are possible but just look to make sure the beverage or food is “fortified” with Calcium and/or Vitamin D. This can include fortified soy, coconut, or almond milk (again, it must be fortified) and cereals. Dark leafy greens are a good source of calcium, as is canned salmon; however, it might not be a pleasant smell at the lunch table. Fruits and Vegetables Fresh fruits and veggies are best, but when resources are limited or a child that dislikes many of these things, there are other choices! Applesauce pouches, fruit crisps, dried fruit, 100% fruit rope, 100% fruit juice, and fruit bars are helpful ways to boost nutrient intake. Veggie sticks (a crunchy salty snack) are a helpful way to make veggies somewhat friendlier to eat when trying to introduce them to a picky eater, as are dips like hummus, low-fat ranch dressing, and salsa for veggies like carrots, peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and others. Putting at all together It is okay to do a standard low-fat turkey sandwich with cheese on whole-grain bread, baby carrots, a cup of yogurt, and a banana. Perfect! But also know it can be fun to do turkey roll-ups with cheese, a handful of animal crackers, a carton of milk, and berries to switch it up. A little more creative if that isn’t fun? How about packing different parts of a parfait they can build at lunch? Yogurt, a baggie of granola or dried cereal, a handful of nuts, some berries or dried fruit they can create their own fun mixture. Don’t hesitate to add a little sweetness like yogurt covered pretzels or raisins too. Which leads me back to the beginning. Once a week, sit with your child and help them decide what they would like. Now that you have the tools, teach them too about why certain parts of lunch is important. And you will find too, many of these items are the same price as bagged chips, the infamous Lunchables, sugary beverages, and pastries. Remember fruit and veggies in season are cheapest. Buying in bulk, will save you tons (popcorn, pretzels, peanut butter, granola bars, applesauce pouches, etc.). Let your child help you hunt for coupons each weekend! Together you will create a great foundation of meal planning and good decision making skills, together. And being together, is what a happy and healthy family is all about! Jenna Stranzl, RD Cuisine 365 Dietitian