Your kids are one of the brightest spots in your life, so they deserve the best of the best, don’t they? And that includes nutrition. Finding the correct balance of all the food groups is tricky for any age, but especially for the youngsters. Rachel Kirsch, pictured, comes up with some suggestions.
It can be difficult, but accepting defeat and just packing your child a Lunchable doesn’t have to be the answer. Nancy Hunt, a Registered Dietician and professor at Lipscomb University, says that some of the pre-boxed lunch options have as much fat and sodium in them as fast food meals.
“I see the large cupcakes brought in often as a birthday choice with inches of icing on top. Some will come in with pop tarts or a honey bun, which I feel is quite a large serving for a 4-6 year old,” said Lipscomb Academy Preschool teacher Kelly Austin.
In regards to lunches being brought from home, Hunt gave some insightful advice. “Variety is the spice of life! Put as much color in the lunchbox as you can (real color, not food coloring!). For example, right now the berries are coming into season, so get some local strawberries or blueberries to toss into the lunch box,” Hunt says.
Dr. Autumn Marshall, another Registered Dietician and professor at Lipscomb University, agreed with Hunt. “Choose fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season. Fruit cups packed in 100% juice. Buy vegetables and fruits in their simplest form. Pre-cut, pre-washed, ready-to-eat are convenient but often cost much more.”
Another great tip from Hunt was the involvement of the kids in the lunch making. “Get the kids involved in the planning by letting them cook or taste what’s going into the lunch box; the more invested they are in the process, the more likely they will eat their lunches instead of trading them for junk!” said Hunt. The adult should still have the final say over the food choices, but some input from the kids could be fun.
Another fun add-in for the kids would a “mystery food” once a week. It could encourage them to try new foods, Dr. Marshall explained.
While the food itself is the most important aspect of the lunch-making process, the quality of the food is also important. “Food safety is important when packing lunches. To keep lunch items cold, include a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box. Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold. Use an insulated container to keep food like soup hot,” said Dr. Marshall. Hunt also added that bagged frozen fruit can provide variety in winter and double as an ice pack in the lunch box.
Dr. Jay Ruark, a dentist of Embassy Dental, had a few thoughts about lunches being brought from home. “I think that if parents are properly educated in what foods, drinks, and snacks are healthy alternatives to what the normal school lunches provide, I feel that lunches from home are MUCH better than what most schools provide.”
The process of lunch-making can be a bit strenuous, but more rewarding in the end for your children. Dietician Nancy Hunt offered some specific healthy options for kids’ lunches. “I recommend fruit, and a few vegetables that don’t have to be cooked. Whole grain crackers and chips, or popcorn are all good
options for carbohydrates with a crunch, and water or milk to drink is always a good option.”
An aspect of children’s health that sometimes can be overlooked is their oral health. Dietician Nancy Hunt encourages the classic water for lunch. “Water still wins the penny-pincher war, and there are lots of flavorings that kids can squirt into the water to mix things up from day to day; most Americans don’t drink enough water, so why not start the habit early?”
Dr. Ruark agrees with Hunt, and strongly discourages soda as a beverage.
“Sodas in general are not good for your teeth. However, sodas and energy drinks with sugar are extra detrimental to your teeth due to the combination of acid and sugar that they contain. The acid can breakdown the enamel and the sugar is the “root of all evil” in the development of decay.”
Encourage strong, healthy nutrition habits when kids are young by preparing healthy and delicious lunches with your kids now. The more involved the kids are, the more likely they’ll enjoy their lunches. Help make your day brighter, and your kid’s day brighter, by preparing the best lunches you can.