With the school year starting, here are 12 ways for parents to make bringing lunch to school is healthy and fun:
- Give your kids a choice. If they get to decide what to pack, they are more likely to eat it. Make sure their choices are all healthy ones. Ask, "Would you like an apple or a banana in your lunchbox?" Or maybe, "Do you want carrots or celery today?
- Know the rules. Some schools have rules about what children are and are not allowed to bring for lunch. Make sure you check with your child's teacher before packing that peanut butter and banana sandwich!
- Add some veggies and dip. Kids love to dip foods, so add a dip to make eating veggies more fun. Try making a quick dip with plain non-fat yogurt and garlic powder (or any other seasoning you want). Raw or lightly steamed veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, and celery are all easy to dip!
- Make mini-kebobs! Cube up low-sodium deli chicken or turkey or low-fat cheese and place the cubes on pretzel sticks. Alternate with grape tomatoes, and green grapes.
- Switch to whole grains. Make a sandwich with whole wheat bread instead of white. You can also try whole wheat pita or tortillas to mix things up a bit.
- Slice it up! Kids are more likely to eat things in smaller bite-sized pieces or slices. Cut up an apple or create a fruit cup with different melons. Slice up a sandwich into 4 squares.
- Use a thermos for warm foods. A healthy mac and cheese made with whole wheat pasta and some small broccoli florets is perfect for a thermos. A three-bean chili with carrots and zucchini works great, too!
- Add a good source of calcium. Yogurt makes a great addition, and so do small pre-made smoothies from the yogurt section at your grocery store. Low-fat string cheese is always a hit, and low-fat milk is an easy go-to.
- Opt for water instead of sugary drinks like juices, sodas and sports drinks.
- Trim the fat: Aim for low fat snacks like baked chips, or low-fat popcorn or whole grain crackers if your child likes something crunchy!
- Use an ice pack to keep cold foods cold.
- Make faces! Let your child make a "face" on their sandwich with ingredients like hummus, low-fat cream cheese and cut up veggies.
William Gillespie, MD, is a pediatrician and Chief Medical Officer for EmblemHealth, Inc. which, through its companies Group Health Incorporated (GHI) and HIP Health Plan of New York (HIP), provides quality health care coverage and wellness programs for 2.8 million people. For more tips on staying healthy, go to www.emblemhealth.com and click on Health & Wellness.