Making healthy, delicious school lunches
Are you worried about making healthy and delicious lunches for kids this school year? As school starts back up, many parents will struggle to find healthy foods their kids will agree to take to school for lunch.
However, shopping smart and trying new ideas can help parents send kids back to school with lunches that are good for them and taste great. Check out the following tips to help make school lunches nutritious and fun this fall.
Tips for healthy packed lunches
--Focus on fruits and veggies. Packing whole fruits like an apple or a bunch of grapes is simple and delicious. Individual containers of applesauce, pears, peaches, and pineapples also make a tasty treat. Sliced zucchini and cucumbers, red and green pepper strips, broccoli, carrots, celery, and cauliflower are raw vegetables that are easy to pack. Try adding a low-fat salad dressing or hummus as a dip.
--Spice up fruit. Low-fat yogurt or pudding is a great dip for strawberries and melons. Try different fruits with different textures so children don't get bored, such as crunchy apples with juicy oranges. Making fruit salad is a great way to keep fruit fun. Mix sweet fruits like apples, bananas, and pears with acidic fruits like oranges and pineapples. Kids can try different combinations, and the acidic juices will help prevent the fruit from turning brown.
--Go for whole grain goodness. Use whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, and brown rice. Whole-grain cereal is also a fun alternative to potato chips for a snack. If children still want chips, pick ones that are whole grain, baked, or possibly both.
--Food labels are your friend. When buying canned or individual containers of fruit, make sure it has no added sugar and is packed in its own juice or water. Read labels to make sure products are made with whole grains. Just because bread is brown doesn't mean its whole grain. Check the ingredients list to make sure the first ingredient is brown rice, bulgur, whole-grain corn, whole wheat, oatmeal, whole oats, whole rye, or wild rice.
--Choose 100 percent juice. Buy juices with little added sugar or sweeteners. Avoid juices that have sugars or caloric sweeteners listed as their first ingredient. Many juices are only 10 or 20 percent juice and contain a lot of unnecessary sugars. Check juice box labels and try to buy products that are 100 percent juice.
--Calcium counts. Make lunches healthier by adding low-fat dairy or calcium-rich foods. The best ways to get calcium are dairy products such as milk, yogurt, sliced cheese, cottage cheese, and string cheese as well as calcium-fortified foods such as some juices and cereals.
--Pack food safely. Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but you can use metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags. Use an ice pack, gel pack, or freeze a juice box, bottled water or sandwich to keep food cold. For best quality, don't freeze sandwiches with mayonnaise, lettuce, or tomatoes; add them right before eating. Have children discard used food packaging and bags. Throw away perishable leftovers unless they can be chilled immediately after lunch and when brought home.
This school year when preparing lunches for kids, remember to focus on variety, check out food labels, and try different flavors and textures. For more information and resources on food, nutrition, and health topics go to www.food.unl.edu.