Most parents want to provide healthy food options when packing lunches for their kids, but often fail to realize which nutritious ingredients they are leaving out.(Photo, right: Pexels)
Surprisingly, it does not take an Iron Chef to pack a yummy and nutritious lunch. However, it does take parents who are knowledgeable about the food they are buying and parents who are willing to try new and creative recipes. Teresa Forehand, a regional Extension agent in human nutrition, diet and health, recommends five tips for busy parents to use when packing healthy food options.
Sneak in Vegetables
Parents should always include vegetables in lunches. According to Forehand, they can do this in creative ways that children may not even realize. “Hide veggies in anything from guacamole for sandwich spreads to muffins with carrots or zucchini baked into them,” Forehand said.
“I buy pre-sliced apple wedges for convenience,” Forehand said. “Also, a banana cut in half with the end dipped in Splenda or dry Koolaid is a hit.” These simple tips help save parents time in the morning while still offering creativity. Michelle Floyd, mother of 6-year-old twins, said, “I like to make fruit and vegetable dip on Sunday nights, that way I can quickly add them to my girl’s lunches during the week.”
Some parents believe that packing bags of chips in lunches is too easy to pass up, but according to Forehand, not all chips have to be unhealthy. Parents should opt for a whole grain alternative like Sun Chips. “Veggie chips are crunchy and delicious,” Forehand said. “Cookies are a nice treat but choose whole grain options such as oatmeal.”
Know Your Child
It is important to know what portion size your child will need when packing healthy food options. “One slice of bread is a serving for a preschooler but not for elementary school children,” Forehand said. “Usually 2 ounces of protein, 4 ounces of juice, 8 ounces of fluid milk or yogurt are proper serving sizes.” She also suggests that parents look for artificial coloring that can be added into ingredient lists. These ingredients can be problematic for children with ADHD. For example, the ingredient label will list red #40 or yellow #5.
“Wraps are easy and fun,” Forehand said. She also encourages getting creative with the fillings you put in your wraps. “Ham and cream cheese or taco meat and guacamole or turkey and Swiss are good, but use whole grain tortillas.” Most of the time you can be creative with ingredients you already have, it just takes a little bit of time and imagination. Anna Weeks, a nanny for three kids, says her favorite way to get creative with them is to make a healthy snack called ants on a log. “Since my kids are picky eaters, we like to mix things up at snack time,” Weeks said. “We usually make a treat called ants on a log, where we take a banana and put peanut butter and raisins on top.”
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