School Lunches CAN Be Healthy & Fun

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Many kids have not associated yummy with "school lunch," and if Mom says its "healthy," the likelihood of that homemade lunch getting eaten diminishes from slim to none. Nowadays it's easier to sneak in nutritious substitutes to your child's lunchbox, or vary up the color, texture, and size. You may still fight buy-in when your kids see commercials for cookies and soda, but we hope these ideas will at least get you started. Remember, it can take up to 12 introductions of a new food before children accept it, so don't give up! One recent study found that children who were offered fruit, but didn't take any, consumed more fruit as an adult. And remember, kids love finger foods. Bento boxes are a great way to pack up your kid's meals (or your own lunch) to take to school or work.

Check out these 5 healthy lunch box ideas:

Lunch 1: Mini Veggie Sandwiches (serve with fresh grapes, sugar snap peas, and one ounce dark chocolate)

  • Whole wheat bread (sliced in rectangles or rounds using cookie cutter)
  • Red peppers (sliced same as you did the bread)
  • Cheddar cheese (sliced same as you did the bread)
  • Cucumber
  • Hummus, mustard or avocado as a spread
  • Put together with toothpicks

Lunch 2: Homemade "Lunchable" (serve with sliced bell peppers and apple sauce)

  • Nitrate/nitrite free deli meat of your choice
  • Cheese slices
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Mustard for building

Lunch 3: A La Carte Meal (serve with grape tomatoes and blueberries)

  • 1 mini Wholly guacamole
  • Corn tortilla chips
  • Hardboiled egg

Lunch 4: Throwback Meal (serve with sliced strawberries and mini cucumbers)

  • Whole wheat bread with nut butter and fruit spread
  • Clementine orange
  • Cheese stick

Lunch 5: Turkey Roll Ups with yogurt + topping (serve with sliced apples and baby carrots)

  • Greek yogurt
  • Cereal of choice to put on yogurt (I like homemade granola or if short on time, Cheerios)
  • Nitrate/nitrite free turkey rolled with Colby jack cheese

Don't forget to make it personal! Whether it is a handwritten note on a napkin, printable joke or a note marked into a banana peel or skin of clementine, remind your little eater that he/she is loved! Encourage healthful eating in your home by making healthy snacks visible and convenient to eat!

  • Keep fresh fruit on the counter in sight
  • Prep veggies ahead of time.
  • Use clear containers or plastic bags so kids can see what is inside
  • Keep healthy food within reach (keep your lower shelves stocked with health choices)
  • Opt for single serve containers (like raisins, almonds, yogurts and baby carrots)

Because a nutritious lunch is critical in how the second part of your child's day is going to go, it's important to take the time to figure out what will work for their palate and at the same time, their body and mind. Of course we want to set them up for success, so one way to do that is to get them involved in the process. Children like to be included planning and execution. On a day that you can find extra time, create a list of menu items and label three columns: protein, carbohydrate and fat. Here's a sample:

Protein: Carbohydrate Fat

Sliced Turkey Whole grain bread & veggies Mayonnaise

Nut butter ½ banana & whole wheat tortilla Nut butter counts as fat and protein

Yogurt Fruit, crackers Cheese

Have your child choose from the menu items and then go on a grocery store scavenger hunt! Not only will this process help create a balanced meal, it will also teach them what a nutritious meal consists of so they can ideally make healthier choices on their own.

No time to make lunch? No problem! You can contact your school for the school's menu in advance. Your school or district's food service director can provide you nutrition information regarding the menu. Take time to sit down with your kiddo to review healthy food choices, and encourage him to play at recess or gym class! Take an active role in your child's health education. Kids who form healthy habits young tend to be healthier adults!

For more ideas on healthy menu options, visit this resource: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/kids

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Caroline_Susie_correctedCaroline Susie RD/LD
Manager Employee Wellness
Methodist Health System

Caroline manages the internal wellness program to improve the health of Methodist Health System's employee and dependent population. A University of Oklahoma graduate, Caroline has 10 years experience as a registered and licensed dietitian.

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Julie McCullough
Wellness Coach and Program Coordinator
Methodist Health System

Julie graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Applied Behavior Analysis. She has a passion for fitness and wellness, and is also a wife and mom to three wonderfully energetic boys.