Ways to sneak nutrition into your child's school lunch

Sep 5, 2013 at 8:00 a.m. ET

A healthy lunch isn't always the most popular choice when it comes to school lunches, so how can you keep your child happy and satisfied while making sure you give them the nutrition they need? Be sneaky! Here are some ideas on how to do it!

Girl packing lunch

Keep it easy to eat

Kids have a limited amount of time for lunch and would often rather head outside to play than munch away at something time-consuming, so a good option is to make the healthy choice easy to eat.

  • Cut up carrots, cucumbers, celery and other long, skinny veggies into matchstick-size pieces that are fun and easy. This is a great way to make these foods seem more snack-friendly!
  • Peel oranges and other citrus fruits ahead of time so they become more grab-and-go.
  • Pack smaller-scale fruit in their lunch, such as Cutie clementines or mini bananas, which are cute and fun to eat.
  • Cut up apples into wedges, and dip them in lemon or lemon-lime soda to prevent them from browning. The soda adds just a touch of sweetness kids will love.
  • Use dried fruit as a substitute for fresh fruit. Dehydrated fruit maintains its nutritional integrity, so send your kids something sweet, chewy and healthy, such as dried apples, mangoes, cherries or apricots. Cut them up into small bite-sized pieces to disguise them even more. Or take it a step further and give your child a treat like Squiggles or another 100 per cent fruit snack that looks more like a candy treat than a piece of fruit.
  • Instead of pieces of fruit, which can be messy to eat, pack easy-to-eat, sugar-free applesauce (such as Mott's) or a fruit cup. A great way to offer your kids their favourite fruit or vegetable is to cut it up fresh and pop it into an airtight storage container like a snack cup from Tupperware.

Make hidden substitutions

Give their food a nutritional punch without them even knowing!

  • Sneak in extra nutrition by making sandwiches with such breads as Wonder+ Invisibles or Dempster's Smart bread.
  • Substitute regular flour with half whole-wheat or multi-grain flour in almost any baked goods recipe.
  • When making banana bread, muffins, granola bars or virtually any homemade treat that uses oil, replace the oil with an equivalent amount of unsweetened applesauce to add extra vitamins. It's almost impossible to taste the difference.
  • Instead of mayonnaise or salad dressing spread, puree prepared cannellini beans, and mix them in with tuna or chicken salad. This simple switch will add a boost of protein and vitamins.
  • Substitute juice cocktails, which are not much other than sugar and water, with a 100 per cent juice or vegetable drink.
  • Use peanut- or nut-free butters for sandwiches and snacks, as these spreads pack a nutritional punch while keeping your kid's school a nut-free zone.
  • Watch for hidden salt in canned meats and fish. Switch to sodium-reduced varieties and products canned in olive oil or water.
  • Choose better-tasting natural meats and cheeses for sandwiches instead of artificially preserved slices. Don't always make simple sandwiches; try roll-ups with whole-wheat tortilla wraps or snack packs with whole-grain crackers, meat and cheese cubes or cheese strings.
  • Add a small pack of air-popped popcorn for a lunchtime snack. It tastes like a treat but contains protein, vitamins and minerals.

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