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6 smart tips for healthy school lunches

A row of kids eating out of lunch boxes.

Aug. 31, 2019— Kids need nutritious school lunches that give them energy to learn and play. But they also need lunches they'll love enough to actually eat. Checking both boxes for your kiddos may be easier than you think.

Consider these tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and other experts:

1. Find out what foods your child likes. Take your kids shopping and let them help you choose healthy lunch foods they enjoy. Ask them what they like and don't like. Remember: Kids care about taste, appearance and texture. Soggy sandwich bread? Yuck!

2. Let kids help pack their lunches. Kids are more likely to eat a lunch they helped make. You can do some of this prep work the night before or even on weekends.

3. Make food fun. Think bright and colorful foods and lunch boxes decorated with fun patterns for younger students. Use a cookie cutter to create little sandwiches with cool shapes. Leave a fun drawing in your child's lunchbox or a note that says, "Have an awesome day!"

4. Pack a balanced lunch. You can't always be perfect. But try to include all of the food groups, such as a lean protein (like chicken, fish, eggs, beans or nuts), a whole grain, a fruit, a veggie and low-fat dairy.

Try some of these healthy ideas:

  • Whole-grain sandwich breads or wraps filled with turkey, lettuce, olives and tomato.
  • Soup with whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese sticks.
  • Dinner leftovers, like beans and brown rice with a whole-grain tortilla and a side of salsa.
  • A mini pasta salad with steamed broccoli and a little olive oil and vinegar dressing.
  • Pineapple, kiwi and orange kebabs. (Use safe, plastic skewers.)
  • Apple or pear slices with peanut butter or low-fat yogurt dip.
  • Small, easy-to-peel oranges (like clementines or mandarins).
  • Carrot sticks, grape tomatoes or sweet pepper slices with hummus or salad dressing to dip.
  • Celery topped with peanut butter and raisins.
  • Low-fat milk, water or 100% juice to drink.
  • Baked chips, popcorn or trail mix instead of cookies.

5. Check the ingredients. If you buy prepackaged foods marketed for kids, avoid those that pack in a lot of added sugars, sodium or fat.

6. Keep food safety in mind. Use an ice pack or frozen water bottle to keep cold foods cold, and a thermos to keep hot foods hot. Try freezing yogurt or juice the night before so it will thaw by lunchtime.

Does your child buy lunch?

School-provided lunches are often highly nutritious. But it's a good idea to review the menu choices together ahead of time. Each week's menu may be available online.

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