No matter if your child is finishing the school year in person or sticking it out online, a satisfying and healthy lunch is key to keeping them engaged and ready to learn.
Variety will keep your kids interested and provide them with the balanced nutrition they need to grow. Lunches can be so much more than a PBJ or a baloney sandwich, so think outside the (lunch)box. Tina Miller, Nutrition Outreach Manager at United Dairy Industry of Michigan, offers three basic tips for lunches kids will love.
1. Include a variety of balanced foods
Make sure lunches include a balance of dairy, grains, fruit and veggies, and protein. “Dairy is a must! Include milk at all meals so that children won’t miss out on key nutrients necessary to grow and learn,” Miller says. “Include a whole grain serving for sandwiches, such as whole wheat bread, pita, tortillas or English muffins.”
For fruit and veggies, Miller suggests whole, canned or dried fruit and vegetable finger foods like sliced cucumber, carrots, bell peppers or cherry tomatoes with a healthy yogurt dip. Lean meats or poultry; dairy such as milk, yogurt or cheese cubes; and legumes like beans, lentils, and nut butters will bring the protein. Lunch bowls are a fantastic way to bring more balance to your diet, and your kids will love them as much as you do.
2. Take care and use safe food preparation
Safe food prep ensures that food stays fresh and ready to eat. Miller reminds parents to wash their hands regularly and to clean all fruit and vegetables before packing. Proper refrigeration is key to keeping foods fresh. “Use insulated lunch boxes and include ice packs. Frozen yogurt tubes help to maintain a safe temperature and typically thaw by lunch time,” Miller recommends.
“Keep hot foods, such as soups, hot by using a pre-heated thermos to help maintain temperatures.”
Finally, pack hand sanitizer or a wet wipe for your child to clean their hands before tucking in.
3. Make lunchtime a fun midday break
“Lunch time goes quickly, so pack foods that don’t require extra effort to open and eat,” Miller says. “Have the kids help prepare lunches; they will be more likely to eat it.”
When they’re next to you in the kitchen, kids can develop the lifelong skills of preparing food and managing their nutrition. Miller also recommends using fun pasta shapes to add variety to a salad or using a cookie cutter to cut sandwiches into interesting shapes.
With these tips in mind, you can’t go wrong in packing healthy and delicious lunches for your kids. To kickstart your child’s week, here are some recipe ideas:
- Boost protein with tasty Apple Cheese Wraps.
- Get creative with English Muffin Clown Face Pizzas.
- Pack up a thermos with some hearty and comforting Cheesy Chicken Chowder.
- To add a little something extra to apple slices or graham crackers, whip up some Pumpkin Spice Greek Yogurt Dip.
- Create vegetable variety with Salad on a Stick.
Learn about United Dairy Industry of Michigan and find more great recipes at milkmeansmore.org.