The daily routine of packing foods for lunchtime may seem boring, but the food inside those lunchboxes doesn't have to be. Consider your students' personality when planning school lunches.
Whether the cafeteria-bound container features Hello Kitty or Justin Bieber, the foods inside should be customized to fit age, activity level and personal style. So how do you get beyond the usual carrots and celery sticks? Noted nutrition expert, award winning food journalist and television personality, Carolyn O'Neil, MS RD LD, advises parents to think about the personality of each child when assembling lunch.
Fix finger foods for young eaters
Overwhelmed little students may do best with tiny bites of finger foods. So, if you have a shy first grader, send them with string cheese sticks, whole grain crackers, baby carrots and cut-up fruit.
Cucumber wheels, red or orange bell pepper strips, and sugar snap peas are also colorful and nutritious finger foods. Add low-fat ranch dressing or individual packs of fiber- and protein-rich hummus for dipping. The oil in these dips actually helps kids absorb more of the veggie's fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A.
Up the nutrition for those not focused on lunch
What about the teens and tweens focused on anything but the lunch at lunchtime? Older kids focused on friends might prefer a sandwich and a bunch of grapes.
"That table of girls checking out the new guy don't want to be seen wolfing down large portions," O'Neil said. "A dainty sandwich cut into quarters or half of a whole-wheat pita sandwich might be a better fit. Choose lean proteins such as sliced turkey, roast beef or deli ham to maximize nutrition and minimize calories. For something sweet, they may prefer to dip grapes, strawberries or pineapple chunks in protein-packed Greek yogurt."
Pack plenty of food for hungry athletes
Hungry athletes need larger servings of healthy foods for lunch, such as an extra slice of turkey on a sandwich and whole grain tortilla chips with an individual pack of salsa. These energy-burning kids may also need two cartons of cold milk for hydration and nutrition.
For after school, pack a snack to keep your sports star energized. They can refuel before sports practice with fresh fruit or the extra protein in a granola bar with peanuts or other nuts.
No matter what's on the menu for your students, follow the USDA MyPlate nutrition icon. This visual for good nutrition indicates half of a healthy plate be filled with fruit and vegetables, with the two other quarters occupied by a lean protein and a whole grain starch. To complete the meal, add a cup of fat free or low fat milk. Look for food safety tips and after school snack ideas at www.BestFoodFacts.org.Photo courtesy of Getty Images - (photo of children eating lunch)
Center for Food Integrity