6 easy hacks from a pediatrician to make healthier kids’ lunches

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You may have noticed your child seems to be bored of their bag lunch and most of it being brought back home or dumped in the garbage. Lunch is an important meal to get kids the energy they need to get through the second half of the school day. Strive to include some protein, fruits, veggies and healthy sources of fats. Now, you don’t have to buy gourmet or even spend a fortune. It’s about making a few simple changes.

Here are six easy tips to increase the appeal of the what’s in that lunchbox.

1. Cut it up. If you want kids to eat, cut it in small pieces. Take an apple, for example: Sliced, it will be gobbled up quickly, but a whole apple will probably be used for playing catch and thrown right into the garbage. Tip: Slice up an apple in the morning and either add a few drops of lemon juice or after slicing, put the apple back together and cover completely in plastic wrap. Both of these methods will prevent the apple from turning brown.

2. Change the shape. Peanut butter and jelly is a pretty standard lunch and can even get a bit healthier if made on whole wheat bread to add in some fiber. But the key to eating it all up is the shape. Evidence shows that if you cut it on the diagonal to make triangles, kids will be more interested in eating it than if cut just straight in half. Also, and this is simple, use a cookie cutter for fun shapes like a pumpkin for Halloween or even a heart to show how much you care. You can change up the shapes by rolling it up in a tortilla or trying a pita pocket. To healthify instead of jelly use real fruit like banana slices or strawberries.

3. Use dips. Kids love to dip into almost anything, so instead of just thinking about ketchup, pack yogurt, guacamole, salad dressing, hummus, and even a big favorite salsa. Then just cut up whatever fruits and veggies you have in your refrigerator from the week.

4. Do-it-yourself Lunchables. Is your child always eyeing their friend’s store-bought Lunchable that’s probably high in salt and processed foods? Well, you can make your own.

There are so many types of lunch containers with lots of little compartments to put different foods in. Let’s face it, kids love to use their imagination and create. Here is a chance to play with their food before eating it. Some suggestions whole-grain crackers, cheese cubes, turkey, chicken, cream cheese, raisin, cucumbers, sliced hard-boiled eggs, tuna, carrots and celery.

5. Use a thermos. Now that bringing your own refillable water bottle is all the rage, how about a great metal thermos? It’s not only good for soup but also pasta, chili and macaroni and cheese. Here’s another tip: You can keep the thermos extra warm by pouring hot/boiling water into a thermos for a minute then emptying it before adding the food. Your child will be good to go until lunchtime.

6. Leftovers for lunch. This is my favorite — I make extra food at dinner and use it for lunch. Change it up, so it’s in a different form than served the night before. For example, roasted chicken can be added on top of a salad or rolled up in a tortilla like a burrito, add beans to some leftover rice or cut up turkey sausage and toss it in with some pasta and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Lastly, as a bonus: Add a quick note, with a heart or smiley face, it will surely put your child in a good mood and make for a more pleasant lunch experience. Let me know what lunch hacks work for your family!

Jennifer Trachtenberg is a pediatrician and can be reached at Ask Dr. Jen.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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