Pack your children a healthier school lunch

Packing your child’s lunch can be a drag, especially if the “healthy” items tend to come home untouched at the end of the day. But not every school has good hot lunch options, and even if yours does, you never know what your child is going to eat when left to his own devices.

Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to make lunch-packing easier for you, and lunch-eating more pleasurable for your little one. Below are some tips to get you started.

Pick a cool lunchbox. Even adults have a hard time getting excited about a brown paper bag. So spend some time with your child helping them select a fun, practical lunch box that fits with her own personal style. If possible, get a bento box-style lunchbox which has different compartments, so that each food can be sealed into its own special spot.

Give your child choices.
It’s amazing what kids will eat when they feel like they are the ones in control. To increase the chances of your child eating what you pack, allow him to participate in the process, whether it’s asking him to choose what he wants each day (from your stock of healthy options), or having him help with the grocery shopping. You can even ask him to help make your grocery list; he has to select two fruits, two vegetables, two protein sources, and two whole grain snacks from a list of choices. If he opens his box at lunchtime to an array of foods he’s helped to choose, odds are he will happily eat them up.

Think outside the sandwich. Squishy, soggy sandwiches are a hard sell. And plenty of other foods are just as nutritious as well as convenient. Try a yogurt parfait, mini frittata, pasta salad, leftovers, or even a Bento box full of different little nibbles. And if you do pack sandwiches, vary the classic version with slightly different formats: wraps, burritos, stuffed rolls, pita pockets, or even pancake sandwiches!

Prep on the weekends or while making dinner. Even a gourmet chef would have a hard time coming up with creative lunch ideas at 6 a.m. on a busy weekday morning. So do yourself a favor: spend some time on the weekend shopping, cooking and planning food for the week. Even washing and chopping fruits and vegetables ahead of time can make lunch-packing a much quicker task. Didn’t make it that far this week? Try making lunches as you make dinner: you can fill lunch boxes with some of the dinner ingredients so they’re ready to go by the time dinner’s on the table.

Include a “treat.” Make lunchtime more fun by adding the occasional surprise for your child to discover when she sits down to eat. Sweets or other “treat” foods can be included once in awhile, but non-food items are often just as exciting and will make your child smile without compromising her health. A sticker, pencil, note, photo, special napkin, or her favorite small toy may be just the thing to entice her to gobble down that healthy packed lunch.