Parents are forever trying to come up with interesting, nutritious ideas for school bag lunches, but the bottom line is that if kids just aren’t that into tofu, they may not be eating enough to fuel their afternoons. The key to packing healthy lunches kids will actually eat is to tweak the way nutritious favourites are served while introducing new foods in small quantities.
It’s easy to change up that ho-hum sandwich simply by delivering preferred fillings in a different type of bread. Some suggestions: whole grain, whole wheat, multi-grain (many varieties), light rye, dark rye, or pumpernickel. Alternatives such as tortillas, pitas, naan bread, corn bread, bagels, healthy crackers, rice cakes, whole grain breadsticks and even homemade oat or bran muffins will also fill the bill in the grain department. Another way to keep things interesting is to pack whole grain pasta in a heat-insulated Thermos instead of sandwiches once in a while.
Finding a way to get meat or meat alternatives into lunches can be challenging, especially if kids are tired of sandwiches. Peanut butter isn’t an option in most schools due to allergy concerns, and if your children won’t eat tofu or lentils, the list rapidly narrows. If they’ll eat a boiled egg or dip their veggies in hummus, great; if not, try serving accepted foods such as cold, lean chicken or ham cubed in a snack container, or tuna or chicken salad with crackers rather than on bread.
In pursuit of veggies & fruit
Just slicing and dicing old favourites a different way is often enough to make them seem new and enticing again. A child who begins turning his or her nose up at baby carrots may eat carrot sticks without complaint. Melon balls might seem more fun than melon cubes, and cherry tomatoes more compelling than tomato slices or wedges. Sending an apple a day? Try apple slices instead, and don’t forget a delicious dip — simple yogurt will do! In a pinch, vegetable drinks, fruit smoothies, and fruit juice can be substituted to keep things yummy and interesting, but still healthy.
If the lumpy cottage cheese and boring rectangles of cheddar are coming home untouched, try serving different types of cheese and/or switch up the presentation. String cheese, cubed cheese, even shredded cheese may be looked upon more favourably just because it’s different. Substitute chocolate milk for white milk occasionally, or pack yogurt tubes or yogurt drinks as alternatives to single-serving cups of yogurt. As mentioned, yogurt served as a dip for fruit is also an excellent idea. Eat Right Ontario also suggests milk-based pudding, or milk-based soup or hot chocolate in a Thermos as other means of getting dairy into lunches.
When it comes to healthy bag lunches, children are more apt to eat foods that they have helped to choose and prepare. Taking responsibility for helping to select foods at the store, and designating which foods to prepare and pack, can be fun for kids and is a great help to busy parents!