Lunches that include a variety of foods and beverages help children stay focused, alert and perform their best throughout the school day. Besides providing the nutrients, hydration and energy children need to grow, learn and play, packed lunches can provide fun and variety that inspire kids to eat well and develop lifelong healthy habits. So, how do parents get an A+ for making creative and fun-filled lunches? It’s not as hard as you think.
Kids love variety, so think about not only what your child likes to eat and drink, but about offering different textures, colors and shapes in the same lunch. And get your child involved in the lunch planning and packing; this is one way to ensure that a nutrient-rich lunch will actually get eaten.
Varying the sandwiches, fruit and vegetables each day is also a great way to ensure your child eats nutritious foods. Selecting a variety of beverages also helps.
Lunch provides children with about a third of the nutrients and calories they need each day, so it’s very important to know what they are eating away from home. By creating fun and enticing lunches, parents can feel confident that their children are eating well. Below are the key elements, easily remembered by the acronym P.A.C.K. that each lunch should include so that kids get the nutrients they need:
P: Protein (for proper growth and to keep children alert) – Make sandwiches with protein fillings like turkey, chicken, hard-boiled eggs, ham, tuna, hummus, beans, peanut butter or cheese slices.
A: All Fruits & Vegetables (for vitamins, minerals and other disease-fighting components) – Include at least one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables in every lunch. Try pears, honeydew, watermelon, cherries, cups of unsweetened applesauce, sliced kiwi, pineapple chunks or dried fruits, in addition to familiar favorites like apples, oranges and bananas. One–half cup of 100% fruit juice helps toward getting 1 ½ cups of the daily fruit requirement for kids. Good lunch-packing veggies include carrot sticks, bell peppers, snap peas, grape tomatoes and zucchini, yellow squash and cucumber slices. You can also put veggies like lettuce, slices of cucumber, tomato, peppers or onion on sandwiches….and even avocado.
C: Carbohydrates (for fueling the brain and muscles) & Calcium (for healthy bones and teeth) – Use whole-grain bread instead of white bread. Great choices include whole-grain tortillas, pita pockets, rice cakes, bagels, muffins, raisin bread, those new sandwich thins and even 100% whole wheat hoagie rolls and hamburger buns. For a change from bread, try rice, noodle or pasta-based salads. Milk is a good source of calcium, but you can also include calcium-containing foods like broccoli, spinach, yogurt, cheese and calcium-fortified orange juice.
K: Kid-friendly Beverages (for hydration and proper body functions) – One percent or fat-free milk, one percent low fat chocolate milk, fruit juices, lower-calorie juice-based drinks, tomato and vegetable juices, water and low or no-calorie flavored waters are the best choices. Providing two selections, one in a lunch box and one in the book bag, will help ensure your child is staying hydrated throughout the day.