The good news is packing a homemade lunch is half the battle. By not resorting to convenience foods, you've already eliminated a big part of the nutritional drain from school lunches.
Here's how to make a few more simple swaps, additions and substitutions to make the kids' school lunches healthier:
- Make lunches you know they'll like. Just because you pack it doesn't mean they'll eat it. If you don't want them to trade or throw away their lunches, make at least three-quarters of their lunches foods you already know they like. You can try something new with the rest. And chances are even that homemade PB&J is healthier than something they might buy in the school cafeteria.
- Make changes they won't notice. Try using a no-sugar-added jelly on the kids' peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Go for an omega-3 enriched egg for their hard-boiled eggs. Opt for plain cheese cubes rather than processed cheese snacks. When you make these types of simple changes, the kids aren't likely to even notice the difference.
- Use an appealing lunch box. Every mom knows that cookie cutters can make foods more appealing to kids. But did you know that the shape of the lunch container can do the same thing? Kids love Laptop Lunches lunch boxes and Easy Lunchboxes, because they offer small sections for child-sized portions of different foods. It makes it easy and appealing to pack tastes of foods for kids who like to graze or who don't want different foods touching each other.
- Opt for whole grains. The same sandwich made on a whole grain bread can offer double the amount of fiber as one made on white bread, and some whole grain breads offer more vitamins and minerals, too. The key is to just change one thing. If the kids like bologna and mayo on white bread. Make the same bologna and mayo on wheat bread. Don't suddenly give them alfalfa sprouts and cucumber slices on wheat bread.
- Offer new foods in bite-sized portions. Kids can get overwhelmed at the prospect of eating a large portion of something new, but if you just pack a few bite-sized pieces, they're much more likely to give it a try. That's how I introduced my kids to Ranier cherries (those yellow cherries with a blush of red). I just put 3 or 4 cherries in their lunch boxes one day. It was just a taste, and their curiosity got the best of them. When they came home that day, they wanted more cherries. Other ideas: Spread a little almond butter on a cracker and top it with another cracker for a bite-sized almond butter sandwich. Put a cherry tomato in their lunches (cut it into a decorative shape if you have time). Or add a few slices of cucumber or pitted black olives. Think of them as garnishes, but remember, garnishes are often more appealing to kids than the main dish!
- Try new versions of foods they already like. Kids like grapes? Try red or black grapes if they've only eaten green grapes. There are over 2,000 varieties of apples. Try a Honeycrisp instead of a Gala or Red Delicious.
- Make desserts yourself. When you make your own brownies, cookies and other treats, you can control the amount and type of sugar, the types of fat and the types of flour you use. The best part is homemade baked goods taste better than store-bought ones. My healthy chocolate chip cookies are high in fiber and heart-healthy oatmeal, but all the kids will notice is that they taste amazing. Or try my healthy kit kat bars recipe, made with brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup. They're rich and gooey and always a hit with the kids (and adults too!).
- Think outside the sandwich, snack, dessert box. School lunches don't to consist of a sandwich, chips, fruit and a drink. Try packing last night's leftovers (heat in the morning and use an insulated container or Thermos), soup or a salad. My tuna macaroni salad is a satisfying, nutrient-rich dish you can make in advance and just scoop out in the morning. Keep it cold with an ice pack.
- Go nuts. Nuts, especially walnuts, almonds and cashews, are high in heart-healthy fats, protein and fiber. Add about 1/4 cup of nuts to the kids' lunches or put Sahale Snacks nuts (compare prices) in their lunch boxes. Sahale Snacks nuts come in flavors like barbecue almonds and cashews with pomegranate and vanilla.
- Skip the juice and soda. Sodas and juices (even all-natural juices) are high in sugar. And while juices have some vitamins and minerals, they get more nutritional value from whole fruits. Opt instead for water or milk, or offer the kids a choice: juice or dessert.
Don't Miss: 26 Brown Bag Lunch Ideas for Kids
Don't Miss: 13 Fresh Takes on a Turkey Sandwich