As a mom to four and a child care provider of many over the years, I thoroughly enjoy feeding children healthy meals. I love seeing kids eat foods that are healthy and actually enjoying them. There are many ways to encourage healthy eating in our kids – of all ages – but today I am going to focus on lunch. With school starting soon, it’s time to think about packing lunches. Sadly, the school lunches are full of processed foods and not many fresh fruits or veggies and my own kids choose not to buy lunch. Thankfully, I have some great eaters and get to pack them some awesome lunches!
We recently discovered Bento lunches which encourages me to fill their lunches with lots of amazing things and have fun doing it! And the best part? Nothing to throw away!
You can find Bento boxes and accessories in local stores (Daiso in Newark and Union City, Cost Plus, etc.) online or enjoy a trip to San Francisco’s Chinatown for some shopping or you can get creative with what you already own! Start with plastic lidded containers, pick up some silicone baking cups (or throwaway paper ones, if you’d like) and some plastic toothpicks and have fun! If you are like me, you might already have some divided Tupperware containers as well! Those work great too!
Fill up your child’s “Bento Lunch” with small servings and many different foods. For example, a lunch Bento for my almost 3 year old could include: yogurt, blueberries, cantaloupe, carrot sticks, broccoli, and whole wheat pretzels. Another Bento Lunch could include: hardboiled egg (check the store or online for shapers! SO cute!), strawberries, peaches, kiwi, cherry tomatoes, and pita chips. Have fun, think of all the fruits and veggies your child likes, try some new ones, and give them small servings and fill up the container with yummy goodness!
If you Google “Bento lunches” you will find dozens of blogs and sites featuring tons more ideas and tips and, if you are like me, you will be greatly inspired this school year!
Be sure to keep a wide variety of healthy foods, fruits, veggies, snacks and leftovers on hand to put together some fun and creative, yet healthy, lunches the kids will love! To help you with ideas to cover all of the food groups, here’s a great list I created after completing a Children’s Nutrition course:
Protein: This is one of the most important part of your child's meal. Protein contains Nitrogen, an important chemical essential for the production of antibodies.
Cheese (added to a sandwich, string cheese, or shredded cheese)
Ham (sliced or cubed, by itself or added to a sandwich)
Turkey (see Ham)
Chicken (see Ham, also great served by the piece such as a leftover chicken leg, cold or heated)
Eggs (kids love hardboiled eggs)
Beans (Kidney, Garbanzo, etc.)
Fruits & Veggies: Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help you ward off heart disease and stroke, control blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent some types of cancer, avoid a painful intestinal ailment called diverticulitis, and guard against cataract and macular degeneration, two common causes of vision loss. They often also contain fiber which is important for children and adults!
Fruits: Minimum of 5 servings of fruits and/or veggies per day is recommended.
Mango (Fresh & Dried) Starfruit
Plums Prunes (yes, kids like them!)
Raisins Cranberries and other Dried Fruits
Cucumbers Snap Peas
Carrots Corn (on the cob or off)
Beans (Kidney and Garbanzo are kid favorites!)
Grains: Carbohydrates provide the body with the fuel it needs for physical activity and for proper organ function. The best sources of carbohydrates - fruits, vegetables, and whole grains - deliver essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients. Whole Grains are preferred (not enriched whole grain) whenever possible.
Whole Grain Bread
Whole Grain Pita Pockets
Tortillas (the whole grain ones are great!)
Pasta (available in Whole Wheat also)
Water (a partially frozen bottle helps keep their food cold)
Milk (cartons which do not require refrigeration are now available!)
100% Juice (no more than 4-6 oz. per day)
1 or 2 Cookies
IMPORTANT REMINDER: Several food items are extreme choking hazards, especially for young children (age 4 and under). Please avoid the following items for children 4 years old and younger:
Peanuts and other nuts
Grapes (MUST be cut!)
Most Raw Veggies