5 simple tips from healthy eating experts.
With the first day of school creeping increasingly closer, the early morning rush is right around the corner. Getting everyone dressed, fed, and out the door can be exhausting—especially if you’re acting as a short-order lunch packer. Our suggestion? Pack the same lunch for you and your kids. Not only will this save you valuable time and money, it will encourage the kids to try new foods. We talked to Tanya Steel, CEO of Cooking Up Big Dreams and author of Real Food for Healthy Kids, and Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Feed Your Family Right!, to get their best tips for packing healthy and wholesome family-friendly lunches.
Introduce New Foods at an Early Age
There's no need for a distinction between "kid" food and "adult" food—in fact, the earlier children are introduced to real foods, the less likely they'll be to turn them away. "In the same way you don't want to dumb down what your kid watches, reads, or experiences, you don't want to dumb down their foods," Steel says. Toddlers are often good about experimenting with new tastes, so have them try fruits and veggies like asparagus, eggplant, melon, and papaya. For protein, Steel suggests eggs, lean chicken, pork, and tofu. For dairy, go for Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and pasteurized un-aged cheeses.
Get Creative With Leftovers
Re-purposing last night’s dinner is a great way to save a trip to the grocery store. If you have leftover protein, such as chicken, fish, or red meat, add it to a whole-wheat wrap with a little mustard, mayo, and a handful of greens, Steel suggests. Leftover grains or pasta can be jazzed up with some edamame or zucchini, then drizzled with olive oil or a little balsamic vinegar. “Just don’t take leftovers and dump them into containers,” she says. “That will turn everyone off.”
Give the Kids a Say
If the kids are included in the lunch-packing process, they're less likely to come home with a half-eaten meal. Ask them to make a list of items they'd like to see in their lunch box, or have them help you in the kitchen—which will give you an extra pair of hands. “Parents can enlist their kids to organize snack packs [with] dried fruit and nuts or veggie slices, or [make] fresh fruit kabobs," Zied says. "A favorite in our home is turkey pinwheels.”
Rotate Lunch Options Daily
Packing a different combination of foods every day will keep kids excited about sitting down for lunch. “It’s important that every day they wonder what they are going to find—it makes it more fun for them and keeps them tasting new flavors and textures," Steel said. Keep the base of the meals the same—whole wheat bread or crackers—then rotate between turkey, lean roast beef, chicken breast slices, or hummus and hard cheeses, Zied suggests. Introducing a variety of seasonal fruits and veggies is also a good way to switch up what's for lunch.
Put a Healthy, Grown-Up Twist on Classics
You don't have to totally nix the PB&J—just give it some excitement (and added nutrition) so you'll feel good about packing it for the family. Instead of sugar-filled jelly, Steel suggests pairing nut butter with cream cheese and sliced strawberries. "Anything that is packed with protein, complex carbs, and produce will get you through the day with energy and keep you feeling full," she says. And on days when everyone's asking for something different, start with the same ingredients—such as hummus and veggies—then use them to top salads or stuff pita for sandwiches.