Making The Most of Lunch

As the first few weeks of the school year and fall are upon us, we can keep coming up with new ways to make a clean start to this new-beginning. Brown bagging it is not just for school kids anymore. Even if you are heading to the office, you’ll certainly eat better if you pack it yourself. Right? For adults and kids alike, making an interesting, appetizing, and nutritious quick lunch can be a snap. How can you make a lunchbox appealing to both kids and adults alike? Here are five tips to help you and your child get a nutritious lunch that is yummy, exciting, and easy to make.

  1. Pack a pallet of colors. Include colorful foods for eye appeal. A colorful meal indicates an abundance of vitamins (green jello doesn’t count). Try sweet red pepper slices, bright orange steamed yams and carrots, green broccoli trees, dark lettuce leaves, yellow apples, purple grapes and on and on.
  2. Variety is the spice of life. Pack a variety of foods. Adding fruits and vegetables turns a boring turkey on bread into a snazzy fiber packed turkey, avocado, sprouts, and red onion eye appealing meal. Try choosing at least one food from each category of Fruit, Vegetable, Whole Grain, and Protein. Include non-meat sources of protein in your options like beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, organic eggs and cheese. Varying your choices will make lunch more interesting.
  3. Plan Ahead. 7:02 am Monday morning is not the best time for culinary inspiration, and often that means pb&j for the kids or pizza on the go for you. The time and stress saved by planning will really make a difference. Make a weekly lunch plan, like a school lunch calendar, and have your child help in the decision process. Make lists of lunch choices in the food categories listed above, and have your child choose what to eat on each day. Compromise. You pick the grain, she picks the fruit. Maybe you pick 3 lunches and he picks 2. Make an agreement with your child that the lunch gets tasted or eaten, and not traded or trashed. Having your child help make his lunch will teach them about good nutrition and simple cooking skills that will be valuable for a lifetime. It can also be helpful to bulk-cook on Sundays. Make a few cups of a quinoa salad and pre-portion it into tupperware to grab for yourself on the way out the door. Or grill up a whole package of chicken breasts, veggies, turkey burgers, whatever your family likes, so they are ready to grab-and-go every day. No morning-of prep time required!
  4. Be creative. If you or your child hates apples, oranges, and bananas, try some kiwi, berries, or Asian pears. Make fruit easy to eat: pre-peel a tangerine or pack sliced pineapple and cantaloupe with toothpicks for easy eating. Save up some small yogurt size plastic containers and fill one with sweet pepper hummus and pack colorful and crunchy veggies for dipping. Include hand eaten foods for youngsters. Eating with our hands is fun. Make it a wrap! Fill a tortilla with veggies or beans, rice, leftover salad and salsa, and roll it up. Expand your lunch options and buy an insulated lunch box or thermos to keep foods hot or cold.
  5. Drinks. Try to focus on water. Kids get enough sodas and sugar drinks without adults giving it to them directly. Who needs those extra “empty” calories loaded in soda? Beverages such as dairy, soy and rice milks can be nutritious too. Try herbal iced teas and flavored waters for variety.

A few other helpful suggestions...

Wraps are a quick and ideal way to transform a boring sandwich into a veggie-packed, hand-held epicurean delight. Wraps can be high calorie traps, so reading labels and choosing specific brands at home can make a big difference. La Tortilla Factory has debuted a line of heart healthy, low carb, whole wheat, and organic wraps in delicious flavors such as rosemary olive oil and basil. These wraps, unlike others that deliver a whopping 330 calories, range from 50-100 calories for a single wrap. Sounds like a winner for tomorrow’s lunch!

Lunch Box Treats 

A lot of us can't end a meal without a little sweet treat. Grapes, berries or other fruits are a great option here. Give that fruit some new life: spread peanut butter between two apple slices, add raisins for fun. Freeze some grapes and watch them turn into wonderful tiny ice-pop treats. Looking for non-fruit options? Try Enjoy Life's Cookies or YummySnack candy bars for healthy alternatives to classic cookies and candy. Or scoop some granola into a baggie and add a small handful of dark chocolate chips. Toss a heavenly Lara snack bar into the bag. Ingredients? Nuts, fruit, spices and nothing else!

Lunch is the most important meal of the day to keep ourselves and our kids full and focused until that final bell rings or that last email is sent. Don't make the afternoon harder on yourself! Pack a nutritious lunch and you'll be well on your way to a productive day. 

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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