Guest Blogger Cheryl Tallman: For years, you've had the opportunity to hand-select and monitor what your children eat for lunch. Now it's time to test their ability. It's only natural for your children's eyes to wander, and for them to notice -- and be envious of -- what other kids are eating. Here's some advice on how to make your child's lunch healthy, fun and enviable in its own right!
Consider letting your child pick out his/her own lunchbox, or purchase one and let him/her decorate it with paint, stickers or markers. Most schools will not provide a refrigerator to store lunchboxes, so you should select an insulated one that contains a reusable freezer pack to keep the lunch fresh. Instead of using a freezer pack, you can also freeze a bottle of water and put it in; it will keep the lunch cold and fresh, and by lunchtime, it will have thawed and be ready to drink.
Those gimmicky salt-, fat- and sugar-filled "Lunchables" trays are very popular with kids -- not because they taste so good, but because look so cool. There's no reason a homemade lunch has to look dull and unappetizing! Buy colorful containers in different shapes to pack your child's lunch in -- they're better than plastic bags and less wasteful, too. Have your child decorate the containers with stickers or markers. Put your child's initials on the containers, but know that it's inevitable that some of them may not make their way home. (You could also purchase inexpensive "semi-disposable" containers so you won't be disappointed if they accidentally end up in the trash.)
Talk to your child about lunchtime. Don't assume that your child's uneaten lunch is sign that he did not like the food. If you ask a few questions, you may find that your child does not have enough time to eat lunch or that he is spending more time socializing with his friends than actually chewing. Asking questions will give you the opportunity to help him learn other important skills, such as time management.
Provide small servings and many choices -- variety is a key to healthy eating. Many lunch foods can be prepared in advance, in large quantities. Each morning, simply fill up small containers with different foods.
Quick lunchbox food suggestions:
â€¢ Dried fruit
â€¢ Fresh fruit (whole or in pieces)
â€¢ Applesauce (no sugar added)
â€¢ Celery sticks filled with cream cheese and raisins or white bean dip
â€¢ Sugar-snap peas with ranch dressing for dipping
â€¢ Yogurt or a smoothie
â€¢ Lunchmeat roll-ups with cream cheese and an asparagus spear in the middle
â€¢ Hard-boiled egg
â€¢ Cheese cubes or string-cheese logs
â€¢ Peanut butter (or sunflower butter) and apple slices or crackers
â€¢ White bean dip or hummus with carrots and mini pita breads
â€¢ Whole-grain crackers or pretzels
â€¢ Trail mix made from cereal, nuts and dried fruit (see below)
Here are a few simple lunchbox recipes for you to try:
4 chunks fresh pineapple (Â½-inch pieces)
2 ounces Colby Jack Marble cheese cubes (Â½-inch pieces)
2 ounces deli ham (1/4-inch slice, cut into 1-inch squares
Using toothpicks, assemble the mini-kabobs in the following order: one ham square, one pineapple chunk, one ham square, cheese cube. (Veggie version: Substitute teriyaki-flavored baked tofu for the ham/cheese. Baked tofu can easily be sliced into small cubes and is very tasty with the pineapple.) Makes four mini-kabobs.
Dry snacks: cereal (choose one that's low in sugar -- under 5g per serving); small pretzels; graham cracker pieces; rice cake pieces; animal crackers
Dried fruits: Cherries, apricots, raisins, mangoes, coconut flakes
Nuts and seeds: sliced almonds, chopped pecans, cashew pieces, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts
Combine any or all of the above ingredients in an airtight container and toss gently to mix. (Big pieces of dried fruit can be cut up easily using kitchen shears.) Store in an airtight container. It lasts for weeks!
1 tablespoon peanut butter or sunflower butter
1 tablespoon cream cheese
Whole-wheat or plain tortilla
Remove the skin from the kiwi and slice it into thin rounds. Spread peanut butter on one half of the wrap and cream cheese on the other. Arrange the kiwi slices evenly over the cream cheese. Beginning on the cream cheese end, gently roll up the tortilla, forming a log shape. The peanut butter will act as the glue to keep it together. These can be served as a traditional wrap sandwich or sliced into pieces (like a sushi roll) for bite-sized treats.
Cheryl Tallman is the cofounder of Fresh Baby (creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit) and author of "So Easy Baby Food Basics" and "So Easy Toddler Food." Visit her online at www.FreshBaby.com for more delicious tips.