By KATHY SMITH
If you send your child to school with a lunch, you want to make it nutritious, but you also want to make it fun.
Here are some idea for making lunches that your kids will eat.
First, make sure it is nutritious. Sack lunches can be a good source of nutrition if you focus on the primary vitamins (A, B, C and D). By doing so you’ll probably be providing your child with enough protein, fiber, carbohydrates, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, calcium, iron and zinc. You will also cut down on fats and sugars.
Here are a some foods high in specific vitamins:
• Vitamin A – dark green and deep yellow vegetables: carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and whole milk.
• Vitamins B – whole grains and seeds: whole wheat breads/crackers/cereal, oatmeal, nuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, green beans and peas.
• Vitamin C – vegetables and fruits (especially citrus): oranges or orange juice, strawberries, kiwi fruit, broccoli, cabbage salad, sliced sweet red or green peppers and sweet potato.
• Vitamin D – sunlight and fortified dairy: yogurt, milk and cheese.
• Use both mild and strong flavors. Nachos, coleslaw, cheddar cheese, and brownies are all strongly flavored foods.
• Think variety and contrast. Color and variety can be appealing to your child’s lunch. Why pack an egg salad sandwich on white bread, a golden apple, potato chips and apple juice when you could pack an egg salad sandwich on whole wheat or pumpernickel bread, a tart green apple, baked sweet potato chips and grape juice?
• Vary shapes and sizes. A meal consisting of cheese nips, grapes, almonds and cherry tomatoes would be tedious to eat.
• Mix things up. Try variety. Pack chicken soup on Monday, bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich on Tuesday, deviled eggs and veggie-kebabs on Wednesday, burrito on Thursday, and ravioli on Friday.
• Serve familiar foods in unfamiliar ways. Fix “ants on a log” (celery sticks filled with cream cheese and dotted with raisins) or make an open-face sandwich (one slice bread spread with cream cheese, topped with a strawberry mouth, a nut nose, blueberry eyes and raisin eyebrows).
• Vary the way you prepare the same food: carrots can be whole, sliced in rounds, or as sticks; cheese can be cubed, sliced, in a tub or as string cheese.
• Limit the fat. If you pack a high-fat meal one day (such as a cheese sandwich and chips), give your child a lower fat selection the next day (their favorite yogurt flavor with cereal to stir in and celery sticks with almond butter).
• Offer baked chips instead of deep-fried. Serve dried fruit instead of candy. When you pack desserts, try to select those with higher nutritional value, like oatmeal cookies with raisins, graham crackers, fruit leather, or pumpkin pie.
• Celebrate special occasions. Every month has something to celebrate. Close to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, surprise your child by putting a book about a famous African-American in your child’s lunch box. Cut your child’s sandwich into a heart shape on Valentine’s Day. On St. Patrick’s Day, break the variety rule and pack only green foods. Provide party favors for the entire class on your child’s birthday.
• Plan surprises. Randomly include a note to your child, just because you think they’re special. Wrap a bracelet around a dried fruit package. Include a seldom-allowed “junk food.” Clip a cartoon or joke and tuck it in with their napkin.
• Make a menu. It’s a lot easier for you to pack lunches if you have the supplies on hand. And on those days when you don’t have a lot of time, pre-planned meals sure come in handy. Even as few as twenty menu ideas could help you create healthful lunches all year long. Just rotate them around to keep your child guessing what’s coming next.
• Involve your child. Be sure to include your child when planning your menus. If they suggest peanut butter and mustard sandwiches, they’re more likely to eat them! Have them help you write the grocery list, and prepare their school lunches when it’s time. If they helped fix it, they’re less likely to trade their food for another child’s “sandwich surprise.”
Resource: Vanderbilt University