Confrontations focusing on diet between children and parents have been around seemingly since the beginning of time. Many children start off as cooperative eaters, anxious to try different types of foods. As they get older, the number of foods they're apt to eat diminishes, which can make choosing healthy items for lunches and dinners more difficult. It also can make packing lunches for school more challenging.
Many initiatives have attempted to improve the quality of school lunches provided by school cafeterias. Government regulations to reduce the amount of fat and sodium in these lunches, and to introduce more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, are one such initiative. Parents of students who prefer to bring their own lunches from home may be left wondering how they can create healthy lunches their kids will eat.
Considering school lunches must compete with far less healthy yet widely available alternatives, parents will need to be creative in their creation of homemade lunches. Here are some ideas to get you started.
* Purchase a new lunch container. There are many different new and innovative lunch containers that can make separating school lunches easy. Few kids want to dig into a brown paper sack and pull out something that has been so squashed it's unrecognizable. Partitioned lunch boxes enable you to pack different items together where they can be stored separately. The divisions also help you remember to include foods from the basic food groups, such as a fruit, vegetable, protein, starch and dairy item.
* Have your child make a list of his or her favorite foods. Once the list has been made, see how you can make the foods healthier. For example, if chicken nuggets make the list, prepare your own nuggets with white meat chunks that are baked, not fried. If there are a number of bread items, see if you can substitute whole grain breads instead of white, bleached varieties.
* Get creative. Children may not be inclined to eat loose pieces of fruit. But if the fruit is stuck on skewers or served with a low-fat dipping sauce or caramel, it may look more appealing. Look to "mini" foods, which tend to be more fun as well. Little sandwiches and little burgers may present an optical illusion, where kids think they're eating only a small amount, but actually it's a full serving.
* Hide healthy foods within others. There are entire recipe books that teach you how to mix fruits and vegetables into desserts to increase nutritive value. Everything from spinach to tofu to beets have been included in items like cake, cookies and brownies. So if kids are reticent to dig into their greens, try a clever hiding method.
* Cut foods into fun shapes. Kids may be more inclined to eat a turkey and cheese sandwich if it's cut into star shapes or their favorite cartoon characters. Invest in a few cookie cutters so that lunchtime becomes fun time.
* Don't let the time of day dictate what you serve. As long as kids are eating healthy items, it doesn't matter when they eat them. If a child loves bagels, choose whole wheat bagels and add an egg on top for a nutritious lunch. Serve with a gelatin dessert that contains chunks of fruit and low-fat milk, and you're set.