Your child's sack lunch may come in a drab, brown bag, but that doesn't
mean it has to be dull.
Bag lunches can be flavorful, varied and—above all—nutritious.
Parents and children just need to put some imagination into packing them,
says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietitian.
A joint effort
Collaborating on lunch gives children a say in what they'll eat while
still giving you the chance to oversee their choices, Jamieson-Petonic says.
As a result, kids end up with a meal they're likely to eat—not
trade or toss.
Start by bringing your child along to the grocery store, Jamieson-Petonic
suggests. This allows you both to look at different foods and to do some
"You can make compromises right there in the aisle," she says.
"If they want something you're not crazy about, you can suggest
For example, kids may go for whole-grain crackers instead of potato chips.
Or whole-wheat bread instead of white.
Don't, however, forbid children the occasional treat, Jamieson-Petonic advises.
"You don't want to be the food police," she says. "Eating
should be enjoyable—not a battle."
The occasional soda or trip through the cafeteria line for pizza is probably
OK, she says. There's plenty you can do on most other days of the
week to ensure your child is eating well.
Strive for variety
Along with being overly strict, being overly mundane can backfire too,
"Peanut butter and jelly five days a week isn't fun," she
says. "You've got to keep things interesting."
Avoid getting in a rut with these pack-your-own menu ideas from the
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,
American Heart Association,
American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations:
To drink. Try 100 percent fruit juice as a tasty alternative to soda. Juice has
calories, too, so don't go overboard.
It's OK to allow the occasional soft drinks, but make them the exception
rather than the rule, advises Jamieson-Petonic.
Milk, even chocolate milk, is good because it provides essential nutrients
such as protein, calcium and vitamin D. The chocolate variety has less
sugar than a juice drink, the academy reports. There's nothing wrong
with water, either.
Main course. Sandwiches made on whole-grain bread provide children with fiber and B
vitamins. For even more nutrients, add lettuce, tomatoes and onions.
Use lean meats and reduced-fat cheeses. And if you
do go for peanut butter and jelly, use natural peanut butter with all-fruit jelly.
Sandwiches getting old, period?
"A whole-wheat pita pocket or tortilla is a nice alternative to bread,"
- A green salad.
- Tuna salad with chopped onions, carrots, peppers and other veggies. Use
fat-free or low-fat mayonnaise.
On the side. Include some fresh fruit. It's a tasty and nutritious source of fiber
and vitamins. Buy what's in season. Apples, oranges, bananas, tangerines,
grapes, blueberries, strawberries and pears all go great in a lunch.
For calcium, include low- or fat-free yogurt, a handful of almonds, or
low-fat or fat-free string cheese. Some cereal bars also have added calcium.
Try veggies too. Pack some low-fat dip along with raw carrots, celery or broccoli.
- Pack popcorn instead of artificially flavored and colored cheese snacks.
- Replace potato chips with baked tortilla chips.
For dessert. Instead of candy bars or sweet cookies, try granola bars, graham crackers,
fig bars, trail mix, or dried or fresh fruits such as raisins or apricots.
Eating cafeteria style
While packing your own lunches provides more control over what your child
is eating, sometimes the cafeteria is a convenient alternative. Just be
sure you know what's available, and give your child advice about which
foods to select.
Find out if your child's school participates in the National School
Lunch Program. Participation means schools are paying close attention
to children's daily requirements for calories and nutrients.
Schools in the program may provide fast-food fare such as pizza, tacos
and hamburgers, but these items are generally more healthful than their
restaurant equivalents, the academy reports.
For example, pizza may be made with reduced-fat cheese and hamburgers with
Tell your children they can eat more healthfully by:
- Ordering burgers without the cheese or mayonnaise.
- Putting salad dressing on the side.
- Going easy on baked potato toppings such as cheese and sour cream.
- Eating bread and rolls without added butter.
- Not overloading their trays. Just because something's there doesn't
mean you have to take it.
The bottom line
A good midday meal is vital, according to the academy. It will help your
child concentrate and learn better and provide needed energy for after-school
Do your part to help children eat well. Not every meal they eat will be
perfectly nutritious, but strive to make most of them that way, Jamieson-Petonic advises.