By the Mary’s Center Nutrition Team
We have all experienced changes in our eating routines since the pandemic started. With new schedules and limited budgets, it’s not always easy to maintain structured, healthy meals for our families. And now with the return to in-person learning coming up this fall, we need to adjust to packing school lunches again.
What our children need:
School-age children require a variety of healthy foods given in a structured manner (3 meals and 1-2 snacks daily).
But will they eat it?
Most children lack interest in eating fruits and vegetables, and with more meals eaten outside the home and an increased consumption of fast foods and sugary beverages, it is important for parents and caregivers to have tools to encourage their children to adopt and maintain healthier eating habits.
Let’s Pack it Up!
The Mary’s Center nutrition team has some quick tips to create healthy, simple, budget-friendly lunches. With a little creativity and these easy-to-follow ideas, you can pack a fun and nutritious lunch for your child that they will be excited to eat.
1. Make it fun and colorful. Add as many colors as you can for a more appealing and nutritious lunch. Remember that having more colors also mean more nutrients. Aim to add a daily rainbow (e.g., peas, red pepper strips, tangerine, blueberries). For an extra fun lunch, add a homemade sweet treat such as Greek yogurt with chocolate chips or homemade granola. Follow along with our nutritionist Kristin as she makes an easy and delicious granola recipe:
2. Aim for variety. Children enjoy having different options when eating, which is a great opportunity to add a mixture of foods and nutrients. For instance, you can try adding a veggie wrap with beans, grilled chicken, or tofu. Pair that with carrots or celery sticks, and a side of fruit.
3. Keep it small. Large portions can be overwhelming, so try to add finger-friendly foods that are easy for your child to eat. For example, look for small fruits such as tangerines and berries, or even slice fruits and veggies up smaller for more manageable pieces.
4. Use leftovers. This makes it even more practical for you to pack your child’s lunch. Turn the leftover grilled chicken into chicken salad, the leftover pasta into pasta salad, or wrap the leftover grilled veggies in a whole wheat tortilla!
5. Do it as a team. Children love hands-on projects and packing the lunch together is a great opportunity to start establishing positive connections with food from an early age. Ask your child which fruits and vegetables they want to bring, and include them in the prepping (e.g., selecting, washing, peeling, etc.).
6. Add a little surprise. Add a good morning note, a smiley face, or anything that you know could make your child smile and start the day feeling taken care of!
Remember, fueling your body and those of your children is important as we enter this new normal, so take the time now to plan for the school year. Even small changes in diet and lifestyle habits can lead to major health benefits.