Healthy School Lunches that Won’t Break the Bank
Summer is almost over and for millions of children across the country that means it’s time to head back to school. As a practicing pediatrician I am often asked about the best nutritional choices for children while dealing with rising food costs and accommodating for the finicky eating habits many kids have. With a little planning, you’ll be able to come up with lunches that your child will like and still have money left over for school supplies!
Here are just a few tips for making lunchtime more fun and healthy for your children:
Creativity counts. In my experience children are more likely to eat lunches that are fun and especially that they helped create. Have your kids help pack their own lunch. Make it fun by using cookie cutters to turn plain sandwiches, fruits and vegetables into different shapes. If your child likes dips, include a little peanut butter, hummus, ranch dressing, salsa or even ketchup for added flavor.
Sweets aren’t all bad. Satisfy your child’s sweet tooth not with candy or soda but by including natural healthy sweets like fresh or dried fruits, such as apple slices and California Raisins. Raisins contain healthy antioxidants and fiber, are portable and easy to pack, and just ¼ cup counts as one fruit serving. Unsweetened or no-sugar-added applesauce is also a good choice.
Don’t forget the dairy. A great way to make sure children get enough calcium is to offer milk at every meal. Since it can be hard to pack milk in a lunchbox, consider reduced fat dairy products such as Kraft 2% string cheese, which is now made with 2% milk from cows not treated with growth hormones. Kids may find it fun to pull strings of cheese off as they eat, and at 70 calories per serving it is lower in calorie than the ice cream bars in the lunch line.
Crunch all you want. If your child’s lunch needs a crunch, pass up higher-fat snacks in favor of pretzels, baked chips, low-fat popcorn or trail mix.
Cheaper by the pound. You may be surprised to know that pound for pound, buying healthier food can actually save you money! For example, a pound of bananas (about 3 of them) costs well under $1. And a bag of baby carrots can be divvied up and used for a whole week’s worth of lunches. Eating healthier food may also save you from the medical costs associated with combating the effects of poor nutrition and obesity.
There’s strength in numbers. Include as many food groups as possible to ensure your child will get a good balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates—all of which the body burns at different rates for the best supply of energy to the brain.
A greener lunchbox. You can save money and the environment by choosing reusable lunchboxes and containers to use inside them. Send along a cloth napkin and washable utensils. Encourage your child to recycle when possible—either at school, if recycling bins are available, or by re-packing bottles or cans in his lunchbox to recycle at home.
Some kid-friendly California Raisin recipes:
Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Muffins, Peanut Butter Raisin Spread, Pumpkin Pie Popcorn Mix
Watch the lunchbox makeover video here!
*2008 Mommy Makeover My Lunchbox Satellite Media Tour Courtesy of California Raisins and Kraft 2% String Cheese