How to Pack Healthy Lunches Kids Love: Great Tips to Keep Lunch Fresh and Fun

Chow on 09.19.11
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Photo: Maki / Creative Commons

Last week Parentables (@parentables) co-hosted a Twitter party with GoodGuide and Lazy Dietician so we could talk about how to pack healthy, eco-friendly and appealing lunches for kids. A lot of great tips came out of the chat, so I'd like to share them here with you.

What goes into your child's sandwich?

Cold cuts or deli meats aren't always the healthiest choice due to the high sodium content. GoodGuide offers a comparison on various cold cuts so you can see which ones are better choices.

While a tried-and-true kid favorite like peanut butter and jelly isn't a bad lunch per se, it's important for kids to have a variety of foods for good nutrition. Check out the GoodGuide ratings on peanut butter to see how your favorite brands stack up on issues of health, environment and society.

Remember, your nut butter doesn't always have to be made from peanuts. Give almond, cashew or sunflower butters a try. Opt for nut butters without chocolate, except if you care to offer it as a dessert-like treat on special occasions.

For even more diversity, try variations on the lunchtime classic by adding different ingredients to your nut butter base like sliced bananas, natural fruit jams, craisins or other dried fruits.

If you want something completely different, you can also try out hummus, tahini, avocado, mashed beans or pesto with veggies and low-fat cheese for a twist on healthy sandwiches. Keep trying new foods. It's all about exposure to broaden our children's healthy palates!

What drink do you usually pack to help wash lunch down?

Water is the best option to keep your child hydrated with no added sugar. Add chunks of fruit or citrus slices to your kid's water for all-natural flavor.

Serve water in a reusable water bottle, preferably stainless steel, as opposed to plastic. Try freezing a water bottle so it doubles as an ice pack.

What are some strategies to help get out of the lunch rut?

Get kids to help you pack their lunch; they're more likely to eat something they chose or helped to make.  Here's a super DIY project to help teach kids to make their own lunches.

Make lunch fun for kids by trying out different shaped sandwiches or using dips for veggies.

Avoid processed foods as much as possible. Using natural foods rather than pre-packaged is less expensive, healthier and is eco-friendly.  Sending your kid to school with a healthy lunch might require more thought, so read 15 Tips to Beat Lunch Box Blahs for some great suggestions.

Think outside of the "sandwich" and try out bento boxes for a well-rounded meal. The Healthy Lunchbox blog offers a great resource for kid-friendly healthy lunch ideas that are nearly waste-free.

If you're looking for more variety, here are links to fabulous recipes: 20 Fast and Healthy Brown-Bag Lunches.

How do you keep lunch eco-friendly? You'll save money in the process!

Instead of using a paper lunch sack and plastic bags for snacks and sandwiches, get reusable snack bags, containers and lunch totes. Laptop lunches offer great reusable options as well. Healthy, eco-friendly lunches aren't just for kids. Upgrade YOUR paper bag.

Pack stainless steel utensils rather than relying on plastic. Opt for a cloth napkin and a reusable water bottle.

Promote waste-free lunches in your school by joining Reuseit.com's Waste-Free Lunch campaign.

Go vegetarian with nut butters and veggies over animal-based foods a few times a week. It's good for the environment and your health.

What are some ways to help kids make better choices in the cafeteria?

It's super important to teach kids positive food habits at home so they can use them in school. If you set a good example for them, then they'll be able to recognize healthy foods when they need to make choices on their own.

Read up on the school lunch movement to learn what you can do to help make school cafeteria lunches healthy.

If your child is buying at school, tell them to head to the salad bar. If tales of salad bar contamination have you grossed out, try these soup and salad recipes. You can also grow your own salad.

You can also save money and guarantee healthier fare by avoiding the cafeteria all together! When you help your kids pack an exciting lunch of their choosing, they won't even think about cafeteria food.

Don't forget to visit goodguide.com to make sure the food you buy for your kids is safe, healthy and good for the environment. Follow #GGMoms for more tips on finding safe and healthy products for kids.

Follow @parentables on Twitter for the latest and greatest in parenting news, advice and articles.

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Healthy Snacks Your Kids (and You) Will Love