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Five Tips for Packing a Healthy Lunch for Kids

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Dr. Emily Olson

Pediatrician

Affinity Medical Group

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Growing kids need a nutritious lunch to help them get through the school day. A healthy midday meal boosts energy and concentration as well as helps kids get enough important nutrients.

Your school may offer a hot lunch, but these meals often include processed foods with fewer fresh vegetable and fruit options. Packing a lunch at home allows you to have more control over what your child eats.

The challenge is picking healthy foods that your kid will enjoy. After all, it doesn’t do any good to pack a nutritious lunch only to have your kid toss it or trade it for processed food and sugary drinks.

Here are five tips for packing a healthy lunch your child will want to eat:

  • Get creative – Variety is the spice of life! Few kids will turn down a PB&J sandwich, but switching things up keeps lunch interesting. Consider repurposing leftovers – for example, transform hard boiled eggs into egg salad. Also, think beyond traditional sandwiches – pasta salad, soup, leftover pizza and deli meat roll-ups are delicious lunch options.
  • Let your kids help – Have your kids help pick out foods for their lunches. You can also include them in the shopping process – whether it’s at a grocery store or farmer’s market. This helps kids understand where food comes from and encourages them to try new things.
  • Jazz up veggies and fruit – Cut veggies and fruits into interesting shapes. You can also try freezing fruit – for example, frozen grapes are similar to the frozen fruit pops kids love. To help kids eat their veggies, serve them with a dip or spread. Nut butters, hummus, salsa and yogurt-based dips are all great options.
  • Make healthy substitutes – Whole-grain crackers and pretzels, dried fruit and nuts are great substitutes for your child’s favorite potato chips and cookies.
  • Include a healthy beverage – Soft drinks and many types of fruit juice contain too much sugar. Instead, opt for skim milk or water. To make water more interesting, infuse it with fruit, such as oranges, strawberries or watermelon.

As you’re packing your child’s lunch, make sure you include all of the food groups with a mix of lean protein, whole grains, veggies, fruit and dairy. Here are a few examples:

  • Chicken pasta salad + veggies & hummus + cut-up strawberries + skim milk
  • Turkey deli meat roll-ups + whole-grain pretzels + celery & nut butter + citrus-infused water
  • Whole-grain pita bread + hummus + sliced raw veggies + Greek yogurt + apple slices + skim milk

For more healthy lunch ideas, visit HealthyChildren.org. You can also consult your pediatrician to learn more about kids’ nutrition. To find a pediatrician near you, reach out to your health insurance provider.

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