By Shelby Hunke, Registered Dietitian
We’ve all heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But for growing children, all meals are important, especially when you want them to function at their best both physically and mentally at school.
While school food services provide nutritious meals for children, some like to pack their own lunch. If you have a picky eater or a child who chooses to have a “cold” lunch, here are some tips for healthy back-to-school lunches.
Put your kid in the chef’s role
Sit down with your child once per week and help them plan their lunches. They are more likely to eat food when they have a say in the choices.
Focus on the choosemyplate.gov recommendations and include foods from each food group: milk, meats, grains and vegetables/fruits. It’s okay to include a small sweet or snack item.
Make a checklist or spreadsheet of foods your child is willing to eat from each food group.
Choose nutrient-dense foods
Even in small amounts, nutrient-dense foods have a lot of nutrition. Examples are whole-grain breads or wraps, colorful fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy such as yogurt, string cheese or low-fat milk.
Focus on “eye”-ppetizing foods
Kids and adults alike eat with our eyes first. Kids especially are attracted to colorful foods and fun packaging. Buy a lunch box, Tupperware and disposable silverware with their favorite character or color. Have fun with shapes and sizes by cutting out their sandwiches, fruit or vegetables with a cookie cutter.
Keep the food safe
If you are packing perishable food in your child’s lunch, remember to include an ice pack or two to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
It’s also important to invest in a well-insulated lunch box. Refrigeration is usually unavailable at school, so packing shelf-stable foods is important: trail mix, granola bars, bagels, baby carrots, whole fruit, dried fruit, single-serve applesauce or whole grain crackers.
Some kids could eat the same lunch for two weeks straight, while others get bored and need some variety. To help ensure their lunch doesn’t go to waste, try these strategies:
Celebrate special days: Plan a lunch menu around a special date or event. For example, pack an all-red lunch on Valentine’s Day.
Pack extra: Use peer pressure to your advantage by packing extra “ants on a log” or hummus dip for your child to share with their friends.
Have trendy lunch supplies: Kids will be excited to eat their lunch when it’s packed in a “cool” lunch box or includes stickers on plastic baggies.
Pinwheel lunch recipes
All recipes should start with a whole-wheat wrap of choice. Roll and cut after assembly.
- Turkey and apple: Base layer of mustard and/or mayo topped with grated cheddar cheese, turkey breast, apple slices and lettuce.
- Hawaiian Pizza: Base layer of spaghetti or marinara sauce topped with grated mozzarella cheese, Canadian bacon and pineapple chunks.
- Southwestern: Base layer of cream cheese topped with salsa, black beans, sliced black olives and strips of red bell pepper.
- Veggie Lover: Base layer of hummus topped with mixture of vegetables, such as grated carrots, sliced cucumber, lettuce and pepper strips.
- Turkey and Pesto: Base layer of pesto topped with turkey breast, cucumber slices and lettuce.
About the Author: Shelby Hunke is a registered dietitian working at Tri-County Health Care in the hospital and clinic. She has a degree in exercise science and a passion for helping patients live a healthy lifestyle. She lives in Wadena with her husband, Paul, and two kids, Madison and Jackson. In her spare time, she enjoys family time, running with her dog, Bela, and cooking!