Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
It’s August in Oklahoma and the lazy dog days of summer are coming to a close. Your mornings will soon be interrupted by the screeching brakes of school buses, the waxy smell of new crayons, and the dreaded task of deciding what to pack your child for lunch.
Of course you can go the easy route. There are plenty of prepackaged, carb-heavy, fat-laden meals on the market, but they are expensive and worse, they are detrimental to your child’s health. Consider this: the 2011/2012 National Survey of Children’s Health reports one in three Oklahoma kids between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight or obese. This is an alarming statistic, but is it really surprising? Oklahoma’s adult population has been steadily climbing the charts and now ranks 7th as the fattest state in the nation.
You might think that there is not much you can do. But you can. As a parent, it is the only time in your life when you get to exercise complete control over someone else. (Insert maniacal laugh here.) No really, we’ve been entrusted with the young lives of our children, so it is our job to protect them as best we can. The most important thing we can do is to teach our children to value their health. And we can do this by promoting healthy foods from the start and of course, by practicing what we preach.
With this in mind, let’s view packing our kids’ lunches as an “opportunity” (rather than a task) to take control over their physical and mental well-being during the most formative years of their lives. What better time to enrich their lunches with brain building, hunger busting, blood sugar-regulating power foods that will not only satisfy their
hunger, but provide them with the energy and mental clarity to do what they go to school to do: learn.
SPLURGE! put together a few tips, ideas and tricks for hooking kids up with healthy lunch ideas as well as healthy substitutes for some of the not-so-healthy choices.
Let’s start with protein. This is the most important food for building muscle, regulating blood sugar and satisfying hunger. Frankly, it’s often the most overlooked and undervalued of the food categories. Make sure your child has at least 3oz of lean protein in their lunches.
Examples of protein: turkey, grilled chicken, mozzarella cheese, boiled eggs, turkey franks, turkey or chicken sliders, lean beef and almonds.
Next up, carbs. Usually folks have no trouble getting their carbs in. Most kids’ lunches are chock full of refined carbs (sugar), like chips, cookies and candy. These are typically what nutritionists refer to as “empty calories.” But did you know that fiber is a carb? It’s a complex carb; one of the good guys. There are lots of great carbs to get your child started and keep them regular.
Examples of carbs: high fiber tortillas, high fiber English muffins, bagel thins, wheat bread, whole wheat or multigrain pasta and black beans.
Don’t forget to throw in plenty of fruits and veggies. But be careful. Exotic fruits like oranges, bananas and pineapples can be very high in sugar. On the other hand, most berries are high in fiber and usually much lower in sugar.
Now for a few ideas to make your child’s lunch a healthier, more appealing experience:
Become a Wrap Artist
Let’s face it, wraps are the new sandwich. The Xtreme Wellness high fiber, low carb tortilla by Ole Mexican Foods is one of the most pliable wraps on the market. Fill it with turkey or grilled chicken, cheese and veggies, and then roll it up like a burrito. Flatout also offers a great high fiber, low carb option.
Note: if your child is sold on the traditional sandwich idea, be sure to use whole wheat bread. You can also try bagel thins for a lighter option.
Presentation is Everything
Part of getting kids to eat is presentation. They make up their minds about a food, long before it touches their lips. If it doesn’t look appealing to them, chances are it won’t taste appealing either. Did you know that a recent study concluded that food shaped into smiley faces made healthy food more appealing for kids? So don’t be afraid to create a happy masterpiece. The plate is your canvas.
Fun idea: Lunch Punches. If your child is sold on the traditional sandwich idea, you might try jazzing it up with a new shape. Lunch Punches are like cookie cutters for sandwiches. From trains to princesses, you can find a variety of Lunch Punches on amazon.com.
Let them Play with their Food
Kids love to play with their food. And we’re always telling them to stop. But what if they play with it first, and then eat it? Try this: give them a low sugar, plain yogurt. Then, add some cherries or raspberries and a small amount of granola in separate containers. Let them smash the fruit in and then sprinkle in the granola as they please. By letting them take control in the preparation, they are more likely to want to eat their creations.
Fun idea: Mini kabobs. Cube up some turkey and mozzarella cheese, add in some cherry tomatoes or olives. Then throw in a few toothpicks. Your kids will enjoy making and eating their mini kabobs right at the lunch table. Also, try fruit kabobs for dessert.
By Christina Reyes | Photos by Visual Fusion.