Pack a healthy lunch and snack

by Katelin Whiddon

Picky eating is a top concern we hear often in pediatrics. Parents are constantly looking for new ways to get their children to eat healthier foods for snacks and meals, most commonly lunches at school. The types of foods children eat can determine their life-long habits; therefore, encouraging healthier choices at a young age can contribute to healthier choices for life.

The easiest way to influence a child’s eating is to start them with healthy choices as they are introduced to solids. Encourage fruits and vegetables and limit additional sugars in the diet of children. There are many things we have learned as adults to make “healthy” foods taste better, but these are not necessary and can pass on a trend of bad habits.

We all remember the food pyramid from health class in grade school, and while some of those recommendations have changed, the pyramid still provides a good guideline to follow when balancing a child’s diet. When adding snacks in between meals, fruits and vegetables can be a quick yet healthy option. When purchasing some fruits and vegetables, it may be easier to wash and portion them when you bring them home so they are ready to grab and serve at home or in lunchboxes. Having these foods ready will make you more likely to select these over other processed foods when in a hurry.

Children love color and fun. Try making art with your child’s fruits/vegetables to make it more visually appealing to them. Make faces, rainbows, etc. with food to put a fun spin on healthy options. If children like a dip for their vegetables, make healthier choices. Try hummus, peanut butter or yogurt instead of ranch dressing or other fatty dips sometimes used with vegetables.

Packing lunches for school can be a challenge also. Children often tire of eating the same foods every day, and parents tire of throwing away wasted food that their children refuse to eat at school. Try to include food from numerous food groups: fruits, vegetables, protein, grain and dairy. Higher protein foods are more likely to keep a child fuller longer and may help their performance for the afternoon.

There are countless simple substitutions you can make in lunches and snacks to move toward a healthier diet. Why not try unbuttered popcorn or pretzels instead of potato chips? Low fat yogurt instead of ice cream? Whole grain instead of white bread? If cheese is a favorite for your child, you can try 2 percent cheese to eliminate some unnecessary fat and calories. Angel food cake is a great sweet option instead of snack cakes or cookies. You can also discuss with your pediatrician if cutting down on the fat content of children’s milk may be an option for them.

Seek out guidance from your friends and fellow parents for some healthy foods that go over well with their children. Your child’s pediatric office is also a great resource and can ensure your child’s dietary needs are being met, especially if they have any special requirements.