I'm excited to have Katie Newell, author of Feeding our Families: Bringing back the made-from-scratch family dinner, guest posting today on how to fill our kids' lunch boxes with nutritious food.
We all know that our bodies perform at their peak when fueled with the foods God gave us when He created the earth. Each day, the foods we choose to give our children play a large part in their ability to learn new information, have patience with their peers, and gives them the stamina they need to excel in afternoon sports and activities. Unfortunately, coming up with a quick and healthy lunch, especially one that our kids will be enthusiastic about eating, can often seem like more work than its worth. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be.
Today, I am excited to share with you some of our most popular tips and tricks for creating flavorful, unique, and appealing lunches that will help make this your kiddos’ healthiest, and tastiest, school year ever!
Think outside the box: In our society, we’ve been programmed to think that a sandwich needs to be the focal point of any lunch box. In reality, any combination of whole grains, lean proteins, fresh produce, and healthy fats will give your kiddo the fuel needed to get through rest of the school day. Tortilla wraps, homemade trail mix, granola bars, stovetop popcorn, pasta salads, bean and cheese quesadillas, and leftover roast turkey or chicken are all great options for a school lunch.
Stock your freezer: Homemade chicken nuggets, muffins, cookies, fruit, single portions of soup, yogurt tubes, and waffles can all be frozen in labeled and dated freezer bags for up to three months. Reheat soups and chicken nuggets to piping hot, and then pack them in a thermos-type device to send to school. Put muffins, cookies, fruit, and yogurt into lunch bags directly from the freezer. By the time lunch arrives, they will be perfectly defrosted and ready to eat.
Get your kids involved: Studies have repeatedly shown that kids are more likely to eat new foods if they are involved in the preparation or decision making process. On Sunday evening, or whenever it is convenient for your family, sit down with your kiddos and create a “menu” for the week’s lunches. Educate your kiddos on why it is important to eat fresh veggies (for example, teaching them how the nutrients in carrots will help their little eyes see better in the dark), and teach them easy ways to differentiate between whole grains, proteins, produce, and treats. Create small lists of each based on what is available, and allow them to make a daily selection from each category. It is not uncommon for a weekday lunch in our home to consist of a whole grain waffle, leftover chicken, fruit salad, baby carrots, and a small handful of dye-free jelly beans for dessert. Gourmet? No. Well-rounded, nutrient-rich, and appealing to the child that picked it? Absolutely.
Put your kids in “control”: Instead of getting frustrated with your kiddo when their carrots come home untouched for the third day in a row, encourage them to make a different “choice” the next week. Try saying something like, “I noticed that you haven’t been enjoying your carrots lately. The next time we go to the store, would you prefer to buy cucumbers or broccoli to eat at lunch.” This turns eating their veggies into another decision that they get to make, not just something Mom says they’re supposed to do.
Remember, variety is the spice of life: When it comes to produce, make it a goal to feed your family all the colors of the rainbow as often as you can. Creating a fruit salad that consists of two or three pieces each of strawberry, cantaloupe, pineapple, kiwi, and blueberries is often more appealing to a young eater than an equal amount of just strawberries. You will also be fueling their bodies with a wider variety of antioxidants and phytonutrients than when you serve just one type of produce at a time. (We like to prepare a large bowl of mixed fruit and cut up veggies to serve throughout the week. No need to spend time slicing and dicing each morning.)
Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff: Lunch is only one part of your child’s daily food intake. It is easy to get frustrated when a lunch you put time and effort into comes back barely touched, but try not to let your kids see it bother you. The last thing you want is for eating to become a daily power struggle. Remember, just like with adults, kids are not as hungry on some days as they are on others. Start their day with a good breakfast at home, offer a wholesome after-school snack, and model healthy eating at the family dinner table. As your kids continue to see you modeling your own healthy choices food choices, they will eventually come around.
For a list of the quick and easy school lunches Katie plans to feed her own family this year, check out her latest post at http://www.healthnutfoodie.com.
Katie Newell is a former junk food junkie turned real food advocate. After switching to a real food way of eating, she was able to slow the progression of a chronic and painful disease that has plagued her since childhood. She was also able to triumph over infertility after being told she had almost no hope. Katie is now on a mission to change the way we feed our families, is the founder of healthnutfoodie.com, and author of the popular cookbook Feeding our Families: Bringing back the made-from-scratch family dinner. She enjoys sharing her story with groups large and small, and has had her work featured on dozens of top media sites including WebMD, Livestrong, Healthy Child, and CNN. To learn more, please visit her original website.