How Can We Make Our Kids’ Lunches Healthier?
And while we’re at it, can we teach our kids to enjoy healthy eating? I say, YES, we can!
Kids (heck, adults, too) can be resistant to change of any kind.
Changes in eating habits can seem traumatic to children, so start with small changes. Brace yourself for resistance at first.
Kids may not react kindly to aberrations in their lunch box regulars. Food might come home un-eaten at first.
Don’t give up! Kids may need to eat a new food over 20 times to develop a taste for it. Start with small changes, like introducing one new food a week.
Here are some tips to change up not just the lunch boxes, but also the attitudes that your kids may have adopted about food in general.
Create a Culture of Food Positivity
Let’s try to get rid of food-negativity.
To create a more positive eating environment, ask kids to alter negative blanket statements about foods.
Instead of saying, “ I don’t like that” when presented with a new food, or even a food they’ve tried and didn’t enjoy, let’s try and say, “it’s not my favourite, but I’ll try it.”
Kids can be foodies, too! The world is full of new and interesting foods; it can be quite an adventure to expand your palette and it can be a lot of fun, too.
Encouraging kids to try just a few bites of a new food is a good place to start. Then, keep offering new foods on the regular so that this becomes the new normal.
Let’s also try to change the perception that only unhealthy foods taste good.
By offering kids a variety of healthy foods prepared in a variety of ways, they may find a whole new world of food options that they enjoy.
Educate kids about Nutrition
Start an on-going conversation about nutrition.
Talk about what makes some foods healthy foods and others unhealthy foods. Discuss the effects of unhealthy foods on the body (they make us sick more often, they makes us more tired, they don’t help us fight off germs as easily, they give us cavities, etc.)
Once kids understand what unhealthy foods do to their bodies, they will be more receptive to eating healthy foods. Kids, in my experience don’t want to get sick or have cavities. But if no one ever explains to them that eating sugar all day will harm their bodies, how can we expect them to care what they eat?
It’s equally important to talk to kids about the ways healthy foods will help them.
My boys want to grow stronger and play their sports to the best of their abilities. So we talk about the ways the healthy foods will help perform better in the sports they love, help them learn in school, and keep the feeling strong and happy.
Although Brussels sprouts may not be my kids’ favourites, they eat them because they understand the nourishment they’re getting from them.
Involve kids in the Process
Kids are much more likely to eat a meal that they helped prepare.
As a side bonus, having kids help make their lunches, or at least being a part of the decision-making process, can lead to some valuable quality-time together.
Present your kids with some healthy choices for their lunch, and have them decide what goes into the lunchbox.
What do kids need to eat?
Remember, kids need:
- proteins (eggs, cheese, lean meats, fish)
- healthy fats (nuts/seeds and or nut/seed butters, avocados, eggs, yogurt)
- whole grains (whole wheat flours, brown rice, quinoa)
- fresh vegetables
- fresh fruit
Because they are growing, it’s so important to nourish our children with healthy, brain-stimulating foods. Foods that will help them grow.
I’m not saying never give kids treats. But it’s implicit in the word treat that its not an every meal thing.
Can we start thinking about the foods we’re feeding our kids, and the effect these foods may have on their overall health and well-being? They might thank us for it later!
Lunch Box Ideas
Cut up Veggie Sticks, either on their own or with a dip, such as hummus, tzatziki, or another healthy dip.
We often include:
- carrot sticks (or baby carrots)
- cucumber slices
- sugar snap peas
- broccoli florets
- bell peppers
- cherry tomatoes
- celery sticks
- cauliflower pieces
Try to include as many colours as you can!
You can prep these a couple days in advance and keep them in a container filled with water in the fridge.
Whole Grain Sandwiches
Use 100% whole wheat bread, pita, bagels,whole grain tortilla wraps, or english muffins.
Replace processed cheese and processed meat/processed fake meat slices with sandwiches made with:
- leftover roasted chicken
- natural cheeses
- tuna salad
- egg salad
- low sugar jam and sunflower seed butter
- mashed avocado with sea salt
Whole Grain Crackers + Protein
Ditch the Goldfish crackers! We like Low-Sodium Triscuits (whole grain, with only 3 ingredients!). I make Triscuit “sandwiches” with: white cheddar cheese, goat cheese, almond butter (or nut-free butter), hummus, tzatziki or guacamole.
Whole Wheat Pita Pizzas
We make these in the toaster oven, using low-sodium, organic pasta sauce, Mozzarella cheese and diced red peppers.
Include half a banana, apple slices, clementines or orange slices, grapes, blueberries, strawberries… whatever fruit is in season in your area. The more colours you can include, the more antioxidants you child will get!
My kids love this treat. We use a Whirley-Pop on the stove, but you can just as easily use avocado oil in a regular stove pot. Season with sea salt, and/or nutritional yeast and you have a yummy lunch snack.
Homemade-muffins or granola bars. Try my kids’ favourite granola bars HERE!
Use a small thermos to pack leftover soup, pasta, chili, anything they can eat easily the next day.
Our children’s’ school allows us to include any nut other than peanuts, but if your child is in a nut-free school you can include:
- pumpkin seeds
- roasted chickpeas
- dried cranberries
- sunflower seeds
- shaved coconut
- roasted soybeans
- dark chocolate chips
Use a thermos, add some fresh fruit, hemp seeds, pure maple syrup, raisins, etc, and pack a spoon!
So many options here: hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs in a thermos, even a fried egg sandwich!
Ideally use plain yogurt and add in real fruit and/or honey. Otherwise aim for a yogurt with 5% or less total sugar. Kids generally don’t need to eat low fat yogurt or cheese, so it’s fine to feed them yogurt with 2 or even 5% milk fat.
LUNCH RECIPE! Here’s a versatile lunch idea that can be a sandwich, salad or cracker topping!
"Pick Your Protein" Lunch Salad
I’ve made this lunch salad with chicken, tuna, and chickpeas, and it tastes yummy every time! It can be a filler for sandwiches, scooped on top of greens if your kids will eat that (mine love baby spinach!), or used as a topping for crackers or cucumber slices. So many options!
- 1 cup chopped roasted chicken (breast or leftover roasted chicken) (OR)
- 1 can tuna (OR)
- 1 can chickpeas
- 1/2 cup plain Greek/Icelandic yogurt
- Juice of 1/4 of a lemon
- 1 tbsp organic or vegan mayonnaise (optional)
- 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/4 chopped avocado (optional)
- 2 tbsp finely chopped celery
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (I like parsley, basil and oregano)
- 1 tbsp chopped sweet onion
- 1 tbsp raw sunflower seeds
- pinch sea salt and black pepper (to taste)