Sunday, April 1, 2012

Healthy School Lunches...Mission Impossible? 5 Rules to Guide You

Kaylee, age 15 months eating a routine lunch including steamed broccoli.

It's hard to pack a healthy lunch for your school-age kids. Scratch that. It's easy to pack it. You just never know if they will eat it. What to do? Pack them healthy food they will throw away or pack them unhealthy food they will eat...

I have a 10-year-old son that gets the standard American Diet at his dad's house and then eats a plant-based diet with me. This means that some days his lunches are composed of chips, juice boxes, and "fruit" snacks. *shudder* Surprisingly I have been able to find things he likes that are actually nutritive to his body. If I can do that, anyone can! Here are some rules I have learned to live by when making his lunches.

Rule #1: Do not give them unhealthy options. They will throw everything else away and eat the junk. Don't think you are being a good parent by giving them junk. You are doing them a disservice. Growing bodies need vitamins and nutrients which means they need vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Most processed food that is marketed to kids is devoid of these vital nutrients and full of fat, salt and sugar.

Rule #2: Find things they like that are healthy and use them regularly. For example, my son loves nuts and seeds. He gets a custom trail mix in his lunch almost every day full of healthy protein and fats that his body needs. He also loves good old pb&j and cut up apples and oranges will always get eaten. He also likes soybeans or edamame. I make sure to buy organic, non-GMO.

Rule #3: Find healthy "treats" to replace the usual junk fillers. Instead of chips, try seaweed crisps. Instead of goldfish crackers try whole wheat or nut thins. Instead of fruit snacks use dried unsweetened fruit. Instead of cookies or granola bars make homemade granola bars or at least opt for a lesser processed and more nutritious variety.

Rule #4: Kids like dip. Apples and peanut butter. Hummus and carrots. Organic corn tortilla chips and bean dip.

Rule #5: Involve your kids in their lunch. Ask them what they would like (but only offer healthy choices.) For example, sometimes I am thinking of giving my son a bean burrito or some other non-pb&j option but when I ask him if he will eat it or throw it away he tells me the truth. Most days he prefers to have his pb&j. That's fine! It's much healthier than many other options and beats the heck out of cafeteria food by far.

Have any tips for getting kids to eat healthy? Please share!

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