Make School Lunches Fun and Healthy

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As another school year begins, many parents are challenged to figure out what to pack in their children’s lunch boxes.

A fun, healthy lunch or after-school snack – including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins – doesn’t have to be time-consuming, stressful or more costly to prepare. Have your child help in planning and packing their meals. When kids are involved, they are more likely to enjoy the foods they select.

Consider these tips for packing a healthy, tasty lunch.

Switch to whole grains. While shopping, look for 100-percent whole-grain bread for sandwiches, 100-percent whole-grain tortillas for wraps and whole-grain crackers. Other examples include quinoa and brown rice. Whole grains have more vitamins, minerals and fiber, and they will keep kids satisfied longer.

Pack the protein. Foods with protein may help kids stay full and focused. Make sure each lunch has a good source of protein, such as hard-boiled eggs, beans, nuts, nut butter, tuna, salmon, rotisserie chicken, edamame or yogurt. Skip deli meats like salami and bologna, which are higher in fat, sodium and preservatives.

Make it colorful. Adding colorful fruits and vegetables can make a lunch look more appetizing, and these foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Spice up vegetables with a little bit of guacamole, hummus, salsa or low-fat ranch dressing to add flavor and fun.

Keep them hydrated. Hydration is particularly important for children, as they have higher water requirements than adults. Besides water, options include smoothies and low-fat milk. Skip the juice and soda.

Add a small, sweet treat. Kids love treats, and adding something small to their lunches gives them something to look forward to. Portion size is key. Aim for less than eight to 10 grams of sugar per serving. Examples include chocolates that are at least 70-percent pure cocoa and natural fruit smoothies with plain Greek yogurt and almond milk.

Minimize junk food. Foods like chips, fruit snacks and candy have little nutritional value. Replace these foods with items like cheese, whole-grain crackers and plain popcorn sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.