Packing a healthy and tasty school lunch can seem like an overwhelming task. If you are like most parents, you spend a fair amount of time and energy on preparing something healthy for your kids. And it can be discouraging to open the lunchbox at the end of the day to find that lunch half eaten … or not eaten at all.
If you have a picky eater at home—which according to WebMD, is one in five kids today—packing lunch is even more challenging. No kid can live on PB&J only, can they?
So, to make it easy, here are seven simple (and healthy!) ways to get your picky eater involved in the lunch-packing party—and eating it up, too:
- Do it together. If you make packing lunch a hands-on experience with your child, they are more likely to eat their food. This means, prepping, cooking, baking and even grocery shopping together. Make it fun and then it’s done!
- Presentation is everything. Kids are attracted to cool containers, lunch boxes featuring their favorite character and anything they can feel ownership of. There are a ton of innovative containers and lunch sacks in stores and online that will get kids excited about lunchtime, so get shopping before you get packing.
- Get creative. From cookie-cutter shaped sandwiches to cutting fruit in bite-sized shapes, color and creativity are key! Dr. Faye Powell, a developmental psychologist, told HuffPost that what food looks like matters to a kid—so keep this in mind when including fruits and veggies in your child’s meals. To keep it healthy, always toss in a water or a juice (that is 100 percent juice!), staying away from sugary drinks.
- Give them what they want. If you have a fan of pizza and chicken nuggets, give it to them—in a healthy way. Use rotisserie chicken to make mini chicken burritos, chicken and curly pasta, or a decked-out chicken salad. Pack crackers, tomatoes, shredded cheese and pepperoni for stackable mini pizzas. Don’t forget that one main protein can be turned into a variety of dishes for the school week.
- Don’t forget the dessert! We are all motivated by rewards, so why not pack a little something sweet for your child? It can be a few mini marshmallows, dark chocolate-covered raisins, or a cookie. Adding a treat to their lunchbox, even if it’s small, never goes unnoticed.
- Talk, talk, talk. Share the importance of healthy eating with your child—it gives them energy, prevents them from getting sick and more.
- Practice what you preach. Remember that your children are always watching you. When your children get to make a meal with you, they’re not just filling a lunch box but learning healthy habits. It’s a chance for them to learn lifelong skills that will help them become healthier adults.
Jennifer Todd is an associate executive director at the Huntington Beach Family YMCA. She has served in the health and wellness industry for 15 years as a nutritionist, group fitness instructor and personal trainer. She has a bachelor of science degree in nutrition and dietetics and is both CPR and automatic external defibrillator certified.