This post comes to you from Healthline and is written by Adrienne Santos-Longhurst. Healthline's mission is to improve health through information. Healthline provides objective, trustworthy, and accurate health information, guided by the principles of responsible journalism and publishing. Enjoy this article on real food lunches.
Knowing what to pack in your child’s lunch box isn’t always easy. From trying to balance between food that’s healthy and food that they’ll actually want to eat can be a downright pain! This can especially hard when it comes to sticking to lunches made up of real food and not just reaching for some of the quick fixes at the grocery store.
Obviously, your child is always worth the effort, but it’s perfectly okay to admit that sometimes a hectic schedule makes it hard to prepare real foods for their lunches five times a week. Before you give into your crazy schedule or your child’s pleading for cheese and cracker snack packs like “all the other kids get,” think about these facts:
-According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 3 children in America is overweight or obese.
-Contrary to popular belief, fast food isn’t the main cause of child obesity, according to a recent study. Turns out that the bigger issue is what their parents and caregivers are feeding them, which often includes very little fruits and veggies and loads of processed foods and sugar-filled beverages.
-Obese kids have a higher risk of several health issues such as bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and heart disease. They also have a higher risk of psychological problems like low self-esteem.
-A National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel concluded long ago that food additives and certain foods affect some children with behavioral issues, including ADHD.
It won’t be easy to get your child to eat a lunch box full of whole grains, fruits, and veggies when little Suzy is sitting on one side with her cupcake treat and little Jared on the other eating a pizza pocket. The key to making it work is to create healthy alternatives that taste great and, since kids are visual creatures; look good too.
Since sandwiches are a lunch box staple, be sure to include them even if only a couple times a week. Make your own bread, or buy whole grain breads that list grains as the first ingredient on the label. Pack them with protein-filled natural nut butters and sweeten them up with slices of banana. Honey is also a nice alternative to highly processed jams and spreads. If getting them to eat sandwiches takes a little more coaxing, then add some whimsy by cutting the bread into a fun shape. It’s all in the details with some kids!
Fruits and vegetables can be approached much the same way, by cutting and arranging them into fun shapes. It may seem a little frivolous, but investing a few bucks into spiral slicer or taking a few extra minutes to spiral cucumbers and other veggies can make all the difference in the world! Baking veggies into “chips” is also a sure-fire way to get a child to eat their veggies without any moaning.
And, give them the special fast food treats they want without all the fat and additives. Ground turkey and chicken made into patties and placed in a whole grain bun is a great alternative to the traditional hamburger and making your own whole grain pizza dough and letting them add their own healthy toppings is a fun way to give them a healthy version of a classic kid favorite.
Other kid-friendly real food ideas are:
The way you pack their lunch is also important. It may seem silly since most of us could care less what our lunch is packaged in when break time rolls around and we’re hungry. To a kid, the way the food is packaged matters, especially when they’re surrounded by other kids drinking out of bottles with straws and slurping snacks out of squishy tubes and containers! Look for cool containers to make the “real food” look like “fun kid food”. Snack trays with different compartments like bento boxes are great, as are bright bottles, and yes, the Little Green Pouch too. Its kid and slurp-friendly design is ingenious, along with being reusable and compact, of course. Basically, when it comes to packing a lunch that appeals to kids: If you can rearrange it, squish it, or slurp it; they’ll love it!
Getting your kids to eat real food at school doesn’t have to be a struggle. Put your kid cap on and think like your 6-year-old self when planning and preparing their lunches and snacks. And, don’t forget to ask for their input and include them in the process. You’d be surprised at how excited they get about lunch when they have some say.
Adrienne is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and fitness for more than a decade. When she's not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking about her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand up paddle board.
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