When it comes to school lunches, there are only so many options your child can choose from that deliver all the vital nutrients needed to complete a full day of education. Although meal plans for hot lunches have been getting better over time, there are still many schools that serve things like pizza, hot dogs, and cheeseburgers, which are loaded with simple carbohydrates, refined sugar, saturated fats, and nowhere near enough natural vitamins and minerals. Of course, you want your child to have fun at school, fit in with their friends, and eat their food when the time comes to do so, but you also want the things they put into their mouth to have some sort of nutritional value. Fortunately, there are quite a few ways to keep lunch lively and still make it healthy.
You can make things fun and interesting simply by changing the vessel that delivers your child’s normal lunchtime favorite. Instead of ham and lettuce on white bread, opt for a whole wheat tortilla instead. The fun of having their food wrapped up tight can make for an exciting change, even if what’s inside is relatively the same. The Human Performance Resource Center writes:
Whole-grain white-flour wraps and breads offer lots of fiber but have the taste and look of traditional white-flour choices.
This is true, and alternating fillings can help as well; using lean cuts of meat like turkey and chicken in place of ham or roast beef can go a long way. Don’t forget to load up on veggies like lettuce and tomato for a bit of crunch. If you’re worried about them making the sandwich soggy, you can pack them separately in sealed containers for your child to decorate their lunch for themselves.
If you’ve ever heard of a Japanese bento box, you know that lunches can be pretty creative if you really try. Many school children in Japan go to class with small compartmentalized lunch boxes filled with small portions of many dishes in fun shapes and flavors.
Create your own bento box by using a plastic storage container with dividers, or line a bento box with multi-colored cupcake tin liners.
Use a cookie cutter to shape your child’s sandwich into something fun and easy to eat, or make a face on their apple by sticking raisins to it with peanut butter. If nuts are allowed at your little one’s school, you can opt for nutless peanut and almond spreads, which retain the flavor of nuts but have no actual interaction with them. Seed butters are another safe alternative, and can be quite flavorful with a spoonful of honey added to them.
Nothing makes vegetables more fun than being able to dip them in something messy. Stock your child’s lunch box with different sauces and dips that they can use to experiment with the flavors of their food. Things like hummus and ranch dressing make for a great snack time companion to carrot sticks and broccoli. Slice veggies thin, or go small with things like cherry tomatoes and mini cucumbers that are fun to hold and quick to munch at recess or lunch.
Whether you’re preparing your own granola mix, or pouring soup into a thermos, always consider a way to make the healthy food you want your child to eat into something fun. Not only will this encourage them to eat what you’ve packed for them, but it also effects them long term. If they relate the nutritious items you gave them as a child to happiness and fun at school then they’re more likely to continue eating that way as they become adults and have to make their own eating choices.