Friday, September 10, 2010

Building a Better, Healthier Lunch for Your Kids

Guest post by Alisa Gilbert

Despite parents’ best intentions, some kids just can’t seem to warm to eating healthy foods. That doesn’t mean that parents should just throw in the towel and resign themselves to packing lunches full of processed, sweetened products. After all, kids need the nutrition from healthy foods to grow and stay strong, and as a parent it’s your job to provide that nutrition -- however hard it may be.

While you may not be able to sell your kids on eating some healthy foods, there are a number of ways that you can make eating right more fun and even enjoyable for your kids, even if your child’s palate only seems to be able to appreciate chicken nuggets and pudding. With a little inventiveness, persistence and teamwork, you and your child can find a lunchbox solution that makes both of you happy. If you’re still struggling to find that common ground, consider some of these helpful lunchtime ideas for healthy eating.

Add a dip. Do your little ones turn up their noses at carrots, celery and other cut veggies? While they might not love the plain version, most will be much more enthusiastic about using these healthy veggies as a vehicle to pick up a tasty veggie dip or a nut butter. Seek out healthy, natural versions of dips, hummus and other condiments or make your own in advance. You’ll get kids to eat vegetables and they won’t even mind doing it.

Make healthy food fun. There’s no reason why a healthy lunch has to be a boring one. Get creative with your lunch making and turn your child’s lunchbox into a wonderland of fun shapes and inventive combinations. Spice up salads with cucumbers shaped like stars, turn a fruit into a boat, or put a smiley face on that healthy sandwich. The more fun foods are, the more likely that your kids will not only eat them but also request them.

Get kids involved. Making a school lunch doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavor for parents. Get your kids involved in the process and let them have input into what they’ll be having for lunch. You might have to make some compromises, but you’ll see better results when you work together than if you just always do it on your own. Plus, if kids see making healthy food as fun, they’re more likely to associate the end product with the same.

Find healthy alternatives. If your child gets upset at the thought of giving up fruit snacks, chips or other tasty but unhealthy treats, it can be helpful to find an alternative to replace the item rather than just kicking it out altogether. For instance, chips could be replaced by whole grain crackers, veggie chips or pita chips -- all healthier options. Finding an alternative can help kids to see that making healthy choices doesn’t mean having to give up all of their favorite foods.

Go beyond the sandwich. Sandwiches are one of the easiest lunch options but they don’t have to be the only one. Try packing kids soups, sandwiches and leftovers from last night’s dinner. So long as the food will travel well, you’ll get to feed your kids healthy, delicious meals and they’ll get a break from the humdrum of their daily sandwich.

Keep trying. Some kids really have a sweet tooth or crave salty foods and it can be hard to wean them off wanting to eat these kinds of things on a regular basis, let alone trying new foods. Research says that foods sometimes need to be presented as many as 20 times for kids to accept them. That’s a lot of determination on your part, but it could pay big dividends in the long run.

Don’t forget the drink. If your child isn’t getting milk from school and is bringing along his or her own beverage, make sure it’s something healthy. Some kid-marketed products are chock-full of sugar and aren’t healthy for little ones to have on a daily basis. Look for juices that are made with real fruit, pack bottled water or encourage kids to drink milk or soy milk with their meals.

Packing healthy lunches can be an uphill battle for both parents and kids, but it’s not impossible. Try out some of these ideas for your child’s lunch and you could start winning the healthy eating battle.

This guest post is contributed by Alisa Gilbert. She welcomes your comments at : alisagilbert599@gmail.com.

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