It’s back-to-school time, and you’ll want to get your child off to the best possible start. One way to do so is to make sure that he or she eats well throughout the day. Lunchtime can be a challenge in that regard, simply because you can’t be there to monitor what your child eats. Nevertheless, it’s very important: studies show that children who eat a well-balanced, nutritious lunch are more alert in the afternoon and perform better overall than their more undernourished counterparts.
The cafeteria at your child’s school is likely brimming with unhealthy temptations, such as greasy pizza, fatty hot dogs, salty French fries, sugary snacks and other vending machine fare. For this reason, it’s important to provide a lunch that’s not only healthy, but also appeals to your child, so he or she will actually eat it and be less inclined to fill up on junk food.
Here are some tips for packing nutritious lunches that you child will enjoy:
- Involve your child in the decision-making process – Offer your child a few healthy choices and allow him or her to make the final selection on what goes into the bag.
- Avoid pre-packaged, processed foods – Even though they might be convenient, kid-sized portions are also expensive and usually chock full of sodium and preservatives.
- Cut off the crusts – If your child doesn’t like bread crusts, cut them off; remember, the goal is to get him or her to eat what you pack.
- Think beyond sandwiches – If there are certain foods that your child likes to have for dinner, prepare enough so that you’ll have leftovers and then pack some in a thermos for his or her lunch the next day.
- Include finger foods – Often a kid favorite, a “tasting platter” of small chunks of ham, cheese cubes, a handful of grapes, cherry tomatoes and some baby carrots with whole-grain crackers can make a lunch that’s both nutritious and fun to eat.
- Add a source of protein – Peel a hard-boiled egg or pack a few deviled eggs made with low-fat mayonnaise. Or, disguise protein as a treat in the form of trail mix (nuts, dried fruit and a few chocolate chips).
- Pack plenty of fruit – Choose whatever’s fresh and in season, and make it easy for your child to eat by cutting it up into small pieces.
- Homemade cookies – After baking a large batch, you can freeze this lunchbox staple – oatmeal raisin is a good choice – and include one in your child’s lunch each day (it will be well thawed by lunchtime).
- Be mindful of food safety – In addition to packing hot foods in a thermos, use an ice-pack to keep perishables cold.
If you have questions about healthy food choices and the role that good nutrition can play in cancer prevention, you can arrange to speak with an expert at Moffitt Cancer Center by calling 1-888-MOFFITT or completing a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.