It’s a good thing Kaitlyn Tyson doesn’t get to pack her own school lunch box. While getting ready for school last year, Ashley Tyson of Lexington, Ky., asked her daughter what she would like in her lunch.
“Candy,” Kaitlyn replied.
Despite her wishes, her mother sent Kaitlyn with a sandwich, applesauce, chips and a dessert.
“The sandwich is almost always peanut butter,” Tyson said. “Applesauce is the closest I can get to sending her a fruit. She is a picky eater, and I would love to have options that she enjoys. I have a hard time finding healthy choices that Kaitlyn will eat.”
Many parents face the same dilemma: Packing a lunch bag with foods their children will eat but that aren’t full of say, candy.
What’s a parent to do?
First, don’t take kids grocery shopping for school lunch items, says registered dietitian Maggie Green of Fort Wright, Ky.
“Stick to what they need to eat most. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat,” she said. “Also, don’t be afraid of using a stainless Thermos that can be preheated with hot water. Thick soups work best for holding the heat.”
Gina Clemons of Lexington started packing lunch for her high-schooler, Caleb, when he was in middle school “because the wait in the lunch line was so long and again in high school because he said there were no healthy choices.”
Clemons finds that providing variety at lunch kept her son happy and full.
“You can buy the small disposable cups with lids that hold 1/4 cup or less to hold whipped cream or dressing or peanut butter for dipping fruit or veggies into. It doesn’t have to be a sandwich, either. I see kids at school getting their protein in a mini version of a meat/cheese tray, a bag of mixed nuts, soy nuts,” she said.
Clemons, a kindergarten assistant, supervises lunches at her elementary school and sees many parents using all reusable containers and not buying individually packaged chips and cookies, she said.
Registered dietitian Janet Tietyen Mullins of Midway, Ky., recommends alternating wraps, sandwiches and entree salads for school lunches.
“Good sides are homemade Waldorf salad, coleslaw, Caesar, fruit cup and baby carrots. Muffins with fiber and fruit make good desserts with yogurt,” she said.
Dr. Susan Mitchell, a health and nutrition expert for Target stores, has a formula for packed lunches that are good for kids and school work. She suggests including a protein, which helps students stay focused on academic performance; a high-fiber, grain carbohydrate, which helps keep energy up all day; and fruit and vegetables, which provide essential nutrients for a healthy immune system.
10 tips for a better lunchbox
The Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests 10 easy tips to give your child’s lunchbox a nutrition makeover.
1. Encourage your child to choose 1 percent or fat-free milk.
Milk is by far the largest source of saturated fat in children’s diets. Choosing 1 percent or fat-free milk instead of whole or 2 percent milk is an important strategy for keeping children’s hearts healthy and arteries clear.
2. Leave cheese off sandwiches, unless it’s low-fat or fat-free cheese.
Although cheese provides calcium, it is the second leading source of artery-clogging saturated fat in kids’ diets. Healthier sources of calcium include lower-fat cheese, fat-free and 1 percent milk, low-fat yogurt and calcium-fortified orange juice.
3. Switch from ham, bologna, salami, pastrami, corned beef or other fatty luncheon meats to low-fat alternatives, such as turkey.
4. Include at least one serving of fruit in every lunch.
Try buying a few new types of fruit each week to let your child discover new favorites and to give her more choices. In addition to apples, oranges or bananas, try pears, sliced melon, grapes or pineapple (fresh or canned in its own juice), or cups of applesauce. Try serving fruit in different ways – whole, cut into slices, cubed or with a yogurt dipping sauce.
5. Sneak vegetables, such as lettuce or slices of cucumber, tomato, green pepper, roasted peppers, zucchini or sweet onion, onto sandwiches.
Eating fruits and vegetables reduces your child’s chances of heart disease, cancer, blindness and stroke later in life. Putting veggies on a sandwich is one way to get more into your child’s diet.
6. Use whole-grain bread instead of white bread for sandwiches.
Choose breads that list “whole wheat” as the first ingredient. If the main flour listed on the label is “wheat” or “unbleached wheat flour,” the product is not whole grain. Most multigrain, rye, oatmeal and pumpernickel breads in the United States are not whole grain.
7. Limit cookies, snack cakes, doughnuts, brownies and other sweet baked goods.
Sweet baked goods are the second leading source of sugar and the fourth leading source of saturated fat in Americans’ diets. Low-fat baked goods can help cut heart-damaging saturated fat from your child’s diet, but even fat-free sweets can crowd out fruit or other healthier foods.
8. Pack baked chips, pretzels, Cheerios, bread sticks or low-fat crackers instead of potato, corn, tortilla or other chips made with oil or Olean.
Avoid fat-free Max chips and Procter & Gamble’s Fat Free Pringles. They are made with Olean (olestra), a fat substitute that can cause abdominal cramping and diarrhea, and can rob your body of carotenoids and other phytochemicals that might lower the risk of cancer. Also, beware of Bugles, which are fried in heavily saturated coconut oil. One ounce has as much artery-clogging fat as a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder.
9. If you pack juice, make sure it’s 100 percent juice.
All fruit drinks are required to list the percentage of juice on the label. Watch out for juice drinks like Sunny Delight, Hi-C, Fruitopia and Capri Sun. With no more than 10 percent juice, they’re soft drinks masquerading as juice.
10. Don’t send Lunchables.
Oscar Mayer’s Lunchables come with a treat and a drink, and they get two-thirds of their calories from fat and sugar. Making your own healthful alternative is as easy as packing low-fat crackers, low-fat lunch meat, a piece of fruit and a box of 100 percent juice in your child’s lunch box (at the very least, use the lower-fat Lunchables).
– 1 bagel
– 2 teaspoons cream cheese
– 4 to 6 slices ultra-thin honey ham
– 1 teaspoon honey mustard
– 1 thin slice beefsteak tomato
– 6 thin cucumber slices
Split bagel; spread each cut half with 1 teaspoon cream cheese. On each half, layer half of each of the ingredients in this order: ham, honey mustard, tomato and cucumber slices. Combine the two halves. Cut in half and wrap.
Sandwich on a stick
– Lunch meat
– Grape tomatoes
Cut bread, cheese and lunch meat into cubes (ask for 1/2-inch-thick slices of ham and turkey at the deli counter). Slide cubes onto a skewer with other foods, such as a grape tomato, a piece of lettuce, a pickle or an olive. Serve with salad dressing or mustard for dipping.
Fruity California walnut salad
– 3 crisp apples (about 1 pound)
– 2 cups (20-ounce can) drained canned pineapple chunks
– 1 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
– 1 cup raisins
– 3/4 cup chopped California walnuts
Halve and core apples, then cut in 1/2-inch cubes. Place apple cubes in large bowl. Add pineapple chunks, yogurt, raisins and walnuts. Toss until ingredients are evenly combined and coated with yogurt. Cover and chill until serving. Makes 12 1/2-cup servings.
Mini rice cake stacks
– 8 mini apple-cinnamon rice cakes
– 11/2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
– 4 banana slices
Spread peanut butter on 4 rice cakes and top with banana slices. Top with the remaining rice cakes. Makes 1 serving.
SoyNut pita pocket
– 1/2 whole wheat pita pocket
– 1 tablespoon SoyNut butter
– 1 tablespoon apple butter
– 6 apple slices
Spread SoyNut butter and apple butter on pita half. Arrange apple inside pita.