School lunches don’t have to be boring or bland. If you’re looking for some ways to brighten up your child’s lunch box, there are some easy things you can do — while getting your child to eat more fruits and vegetables. Not a cook? Don’t worry — the following tips require little or no cooking!
Jenita Lyons, manager of health and wellness with Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness of Norton Children’s Hospital, offers these suggestions:
• Include a rainbow of colors: Offer a variety of colorful raw veggies and fruit precut into pieces that fit little hands. We eat with our eyes first, so bright colors appeal to kids. Colorful fruits and veggies also provide more nutrition.
• Think beyond bread: Instead, offer peanut butter on apple slices or use whole-grain crackers to make mini sandwiches.
• Put it inside a box: Choose a container like a Bento Box that has a few compartments (make sure your kids can open them). Fill compartments with cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, grapes, edamame, mandarin oranges, celery, trail mix, sliced boiled eggs, olives, cubed/diced chicken, turkey/cheese, yogurt or dressing for dipping — the options are endless.
• Take bland to brilliant: Water is the best option for drinks. To add flavor, place some frozen fruit, such as pineapple or berries, in a water bottle.
• Sneaky smoothies: Make smoothies and freeze them in single-serve containers. Place the frozen smoothie in the lunch box in the morning and it should be thawed by lunchtime. Just shake and enjoy. Tip: Bananas can mask other flavors. Incorporate spinach and bananas, and you’ve got a really nutritious treat. Get smoothie recipes.
• Cookie cutter shapes: Make cheese and sandwiches more fun for a picky eater by cutting them into shapes with cookie cutters.
• Dip into something different: Try hummus instead of ranch dressing or dipping sauces. Hummus is simple to make with a food processor. Make a large batch ahead of time and portion out into smaller containers ready to go into the lunch box. You don’t have to stick with traditional hummus made from garbanzo beans. Try black beans, pinto beans or even edamame. Ever tried purple hummus? Add a roasted beet into your hummus mix and watch it turn a vibrant violet!
• Prep time hack: Rice and pasta can be prepared ahead of time and used for a variety of lunches. Premake whole-grain pasta or brown rice and add veggies and protein to either throughout the week. Add a variety of your child’s favorite veggies, such as peas, green beans, corn, carrots, broccoli, etc.
Whether you go fancy or basic, make sure that if you include meats, cheeses and milk products that you keep them cold until lunchtime. Many different ice packs are available — rigid and flexible — that will help keep food safe.
Remember, have fun with lunch!