It’s that time of the year when our kids go back to school! In honor of my own two littles ones starting preschool and kindergarten, I'm dedicating this blog entry to sharing a handful of nutritious, tasty, and simple lunch ideas, as well as a few tips on exposing children to different types of foods. Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you make your precious little cupcake (mmmm cupcakes!) a kale salad or tofu soufflé. Let’s face it, if you’re like me, it's so easy to get into a rut of feeding turkey sandwiches, fruit, and goldfish every day. Not to say that’s unhealthy, it’s just important to expose our little ones to a variety of foods to encourage healthy and open attitudes toward trying new foods.
As a mom and a dietitian, I’m a realist when it comes to feeding my own kids. Although my first priority is making sure they get their daily nutrition from mostly healthy foods, I don’t want them to feel forced into eating things they simply don’t like, nor do I want them to feel deprived of eating certain foods. The struggle is real in my home with vegetables and my 3 year old. I know for certain he likes broccoli and cucumber right now, and not much else. I try to make sure he eats at least one of those daily, as well as offer him whatever other veggies are served at family dinner. I'm certain he'll be more open one day, the same thing happened with my older child. It is so important to introduce kids when they are young, to foods outside of their norm, especially vegetables, and let them choose what they do and do not like. We have to give our kids a chance to train their tastebuds into liking the taste of vegetables. It’s really easy to assume, “oh little Jonny won’t eat that!” when in fact he’s never even had the opportunity to taste it himself. Often times children will turn down a new food over and over again until one day-viola-they decide they want to try it and end up loving it. I've experienced this firsthand with my own kids. They are also more likely to eat it if they see mom or dad eating it. So pack those veggies or other out of the norm foods in their lunch boxes even if you'd bet a million dollars they won't be touched. It may take a while, but they'll get there, you got this! Wishing everyone a healthy and happy school year.
A few points about the lunch menus below:
The beverages in all of the lunches is plain water: Juice is discouraged as a regular beverage due to it’s high added sugar content, zero fiber, and low nutrition; Juice can make kids feel too full to eat actual food. Plain milk can be another drink choice depending on how many other dairy products your child consumes daily.
The portion sizes for each child will vary depending on their age,gender, and activity level, as well as their appetite, and other meals and snacks eaten throughout the day. The portion sizes in this blog are a general reflection of the nutrient needs of children (for one meal) who are physically active about 60 or more minutes/day. The portion sizes for your own child will vary.
Each meal is balanced with healthy amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber; all key nutrients that keep littles ones energized, and ready to learn!
6 Simple Lunch Box Ideas:
1. Turkey roll ups w/baby tomatoes,cucumbers, and popcorn:
Ingredients: 1 whole wheat tortilla, 1/4 avocado, 2 oz turkey, 1 oz (=1 slice) colby jack cheese, 1/2 cup baby tomatoes and cucumbers, 1/4 cup popcorn
Recipe: Spread avocado onto entire tortilla, place turkey slices and cheese on top of avocado spread, roll up tortilla, and cut in half; Serve with: baby tomatoes, cucumbers, and popcorn
Nutrient highlights: fiber, calcium, protein, and monounsaturated fat
2. Yogurt and fruit:
Ingredients: 3/4 cup non-fat plain greek yogurt, 1/2 cup frozen fruit, 1/2 cup plain O's cereal, 1 slice whole wheat bread, 1/4 avocado
Recipe: Top yogurt with fruit (if frozen is packed in the a.m., it will be defrosted by lunchtime), and O's. Mash avocado on bread and cut. Serve together.
Nutrient highlights: calcium, protein, and monounsaturated fat
3. Pizza muffins w/purple carrots and strawberries:
Ingredients: 1 whole wheat english muffin, 2 Tbsp tomato sauce, 1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup spinach, *optional toppings: pepperoni, black olives* 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup purple sliced carrots, 1 Tbsp almond butter
Recipe: Toast both halves of english muffin, divide tomato sauce, spinach, cheese and optional toppings between both muffin halves. Bake in 350 degree preheated oven for 10 minutes Serve with: strawberries, purple carrots and almond butter
Nutrient highlights: fiber, vitamin C, protein, calcium
4. Cracker stacks:
Ingredients: 6 round crackers, 2 ounces turkey lunch meat (cut up), 1 ounce (=1 slice) cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup orange bell pepper and cucumbers, 1 Tbsp hummus, 5 pita chips
Recipe: Layer turkey and cheese slices on top of crackers; Serve with: bell peppers and cucumbers, pita chips and hummus
Nutrient highlights: protein, vitamin c, calcium
5. Breakfast for lunch:
Ingredients: 1/2 cup low sugar cereal, 1/2 cup low fat milk, 1/2 cup blueberries, 1 oz (about 23) almonds
Recipe: Squeeze milk from water bottle over cereal, add blueberries Serve with: almonds or similar heathy fat/protein food
Nutrient highlights: fiber, calcium, protein, antioxidants, and monounsaturated fat