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Pack a lunch your child will eat

Pack a Lunch Your Child Will Eat

April 20, 2019

Between work, school, and activities, packing a nutritious lunch for your child can seem like a luxury. But sending them to school with processed food or leaving them to choose their own foods in the cafeteria can be problematic for their health – and your budget.

Dr. Sharon Pettway, a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold, says that planning ahead is key to achieving big health and economic advantages.

"When packing their lunches, remember that during a school lunch hour, kids don't have much time to eat and don't want to spend that time getting their foods ready. Cut and peel fruits and vegetables in advance, or buy baby carrots, sliced apples, raisins, and grapes in ready-to-eat servings," suggests Dr. Pettway.

Involve your children in picking out their foods and packing the lunch box so they can find out what they like. If you include them in the planning and decision-making process, they'll be more likely to eat it. Use these activities to understand children’s food preferences, teach them about nutrition, and encourage them to try new healthy foods.

It sometimes takes a while for kids to accept new foods, so part of the challenge is coming up with creative options and having a variety of foods in their diet that include whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

"It may help to gradually ease your child into trying new food combos. Instead of peanut butter and jelly every day, you might pair peanut butter with slices of banana," says Dr. Pettway.

Here are a few more tips to help your child make healthy food choices:

  • Pack a lunch that includes a protein, fruit, vegetable, and healthy drink, such as sugar-free juice or water.
  • Remember to stick to whole grains. Start with a healthy bread that has two or more grams of fiber per slice. For variety, use a pita, bagel, roll, or wrap instead of bread.
  • For a snack, try sliced cucumbers or sliced pickles.
  • Variety is the key, so be sure to include things like yogurt, low-fat cheese, and an apple or grapes. Add some low-fat dip for veggies.
  • Choose beverages low in sugar and high in nutrients. Rather than soda or juice, place a little bottle of water or a small container of low-fat milk in their lunch.

Healthy After-School Snacks

Brown Rice Cakes

  • Spread with natural peanut butter.
  • Top with reduced-fat natural cheese and/or lean meat.

Fruit and Vegetables

  • Cut, chop, or slice fresh fruit and vegetables in advance and store in the refrigerator in easily accessible containers. Store fresh fruit in a bowl on the counter.
  • Serve them with low-fat dip, salad dressing, or hummus.

Baked Tortilla Chips and Salsa

  • Consider serving low-fat refried or whole beans in addition to salsa.
  • If you have time, make nachos by adding extras like melted reduced-fat cheese, diced tomatoes, green peppers, onion, low-fat sour cream, and guacamole.

Whole Grain, Low-Fat Crackers

  • Serve with reduced-fat natural cheese and lean meat.
  • If using packaged meat, choose “natural” or “nitrite-free” varieties with minimal processing and preservatives and those with less than 20% of the daily value for sodium.
  • Spread with natural peanut butter or reduced-fat cream cheese.

Whole Grain Miniature Bagels

  • Top with reduced-fat natural cheese and/or lean meat.
  • Spread with jam, natural peanut (or other nut) butter, or plain or flavored reduced-fat cream cheese.
  • To add texture, toast the bagel.

Reduced-Fat or Light String Cheese

  • This is a good source of protein and calcium and a great accompaniment to any snack.
  • Serve with fruit, vegetables, popcorn, or whole-grain crackers.
Headshot of Sharon Pettway, MD

About the Author

Dr. Sharon Pettway is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold's Cypress Clinic. "I believe in working together with parents as a team. It is important to me to find the treatment approach that is most comfortable to the parents. I find this approach ensures compliance and the patients ultimately benefit."

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