For many parents, back to school also means back to packing lunches for the kids.
Packing lunches can be a time consuming and frustrating chore, especially if those lunches are coming home half-eaten. With new COVID-19 protocols in place at many schools, fewer students are seated to eat together during lunch, meaning shorter meal times for most.
Katie Sova, a pediatric dietitian at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan -- and a mother -- says she finds it helpful to leave as much undone in the lunch box as possible, so that the kids aren’t trying to open wrappers during their short lunchtime, and can instead focus on eating.
For parents, Sova recommends making a lunch menu for the whole week, and doing the prep work in advance.
“My biggest thing is meal prepping,” Sova said. “Saturday, Sunday or Monday I chopped everything up, got it ready, put it in large containers, and then I individually packed them the night before or in the morning -- whatever works in your schedule.”
Within a lunch pail, Sova says she likes to use bento boxes to help portion out the different food -- and make it fun for the kids, especially if they’re little.
She also says that fruit is more likely to get eaten, especially if it’s prepared for fast consumption. To help speed along the process for kids, fruit like apples can be sliced up and wrapped well so they don’t brown. Fruits like oranges can be peeled a little bit, and then placed in the lunch box.
The dietitian has a basic formula for packing lunches: First, a fruit and a vegetable. Then, a protein -- which could be meat, a dairy item, chickpeas or beans. Next, a carbohydrate. And finally, a fun treat, such as a handful of mini marshmallows or chocolate chips.
Sova says not to stress if not every lunch hits the mark.
“Nutrition is cumulative, so you don’t have to have a perfect lunch every day,” she said. “Over time, over days and weeks, you’ll get the nutrition you need.”
If you have a picky eater, Sova suggests getting them involved in picking out lunch items, and testing out different textures to determine what they like.
“When we have picky eaters, we tend to have the parents try the same food in different variations,” Sova said. “For instance, something was crunchy, somewhat was soft, something was hard, then we can see which type of texture the child likes the most and we can go from there. When it comes to different foods, that’s actually how we introduced a lot of vegetables in their diet. Some like it pureed into a sauce, so they don’t know it’s in there, or we have some who like it crunchy with a dip sauce.”
The dietitian prepared the following sample lunches for Local 4 viewers to help get you started:
- Boar’s Head ham lunch meat wrapped around a cheese stick
- Stoneyfield kids yogurt
- Cucumber and cherry tomatoes
- Avocado dip (only ingredients are avocado, lime, salt, pepper)
- Mini marshmallows
- Sunbutter and honey sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread
- Chobani probiotic yogurt drink
- Strawberries and blueberries
- Chocolate chips
- Hard-boiled egg
- Babybel cheese
- Happy Tot Fiber and Protein bar
- Honest Kids juice box/pouch, or Simple Truth water pouch
- Mini chocolate rice cakes
Find more: Good Health stories from Dr. McGeorge