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Monday, August 19, 2013

Packing Smarter: A Better Brown Bag Lunch

Back to school time is here and not only does that bring a flurry of shopping for clothes and school supplies, but for school lunch fodder as well.  So how can you best encourage your child to pack a better home-lunch?  Try a few of these tips to keep those brown-bag contents out of the cafeteria trash can:
  • Child input - take your child shopping with you, or at least ask them what they would like to have in their lunch boxes.  If they choose it, they are less likely to chuck it. 
  • Be reasonable - try to balance health, nutrition and taste.  Just because my kids ask for a pre-packaged lunch kit from the store doesn't mean that I pack it for them routinely.  Instead, I try to encourage them to take something from each food group, and include some kind of treat or dessert item.  
  • Watch portion size - kids are often overwhelmed by adult portion sizes and refuse to eat any because it looks so overwhelming.  For example, you may grab 10-12 baby carrots for your lunch serving, but that may overwhelm a 7 year-old.  So ask your child how many carrots they think they'd eat at lunch and use that as a guide.  For my 10 year-old daughter, more than 7 or 8 small or 4 - 5 bigger baby carrots is doable.  
  • Balance convenience foods with whole foods - fun, prepackaged, snack sizes of crackers, dried fruits and other lunch items are fun to add into a lunch, but try to keep a balance of whole foods and processed foods.  For example: Sandwich (or half sandwich for smaller tummies), a bag of carrots & grapes, small snack-bag of crackers and a square of chocolate or cookie, milk or water.
  • Be beverage aware - milk or water are the best beverage options.  Milk provides protein, calcium and vitamin D, and water is always the go-to beverage.  Juices or punch add empty calories and extra sugar, so save those for once-in-a-while occasions.  
  • Think outside the sandwich - not everyone can eat, or wants to eat a sandwich at lunch.  Slightly outside that sandwich-box is the idea of wraps, or quesadilla type lunch items.  Other options that lie a bit farther outside that sandwich-box, are crackers and cheese, or even a bag of dry cereal.  Cereals that are high in fiber and low in sugar make a healthy main dish in a lunch bag.  It lasts a long time, doesn't need to be refrigerated and kids love finger food.  Pair it with some milk, veggies, and dried fruit and you've got a great lunch for picky eaters.   
Remember that kids portions sizes are smaller than adults - sometimes half the normal size depending on the age of the child.  Involve them in packing their own lunches and get their feedback on how their lunch went.  You might find that they need a little more or less of one thing or another.  The more feedback they give, the better chance you'll have to keep them from throwing away your food at lunch time.
I keep stacking drawers in my basement with lunch packing supplies.  They can choose a couple convenience items (crackers or applesauce) to add to their lunches.
Don't over-stuff your snack bags with produce - sometimes less is more when it comes to getting them to eat fruits and veggies.

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