How to Pack a Healthy Lunch

My favorite resource for healthful family eating is the cook book Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair. Lair explains a new way to think about meals: lots of veggies, lots of fruits, a balance of whole grains and legumes, and side dishes or condiments of dairy, sea veggies, nuts, and poultry or fish. I grew up like many Americans thinking of meat as the entree and veggies as a side, but when I eat the way Lair suggests, I feel lighter and healthier. I also find it much easier to figure out what to eat for lunch. In this article I include her tips plus some of my own for packing a healthful lunch for you, your kids, and your family.

There is a whole section in Whole Family entitled “Lively Lunchboxes” which includes recipes for whole grain salads, wraps, and new twists on favorites like potato salad. They are easy to cook, nutritious, and yummy. Every recipe includes a tip on how to adapt for young children or babies who have started solids.

Lair suggests planning out a lunch schedule with your kids. Here’s the key to packing a healthy lunch: You the parent choose the main recipe, what Lair calls a “Growing Food,” like Asian Noodle Salad or a burrito, and then your child chooses a vegetable and fruit to go with it. A Growing Food is a whole grain and bean combo, or a hearty sandwich. Paired with a fruit and a veggie, a growing food makes for a healthful and tasty lunch.

Easy fruits and veggies to pack include carrot sticks, or carrots cut in flower shapes; sliced jicama; apple slices dipped in lemon juice to reduce browning; small tuperware containers of cucumbers, peaches, or other soft veggies; or a spread made from eggplants packed with whole-grain pita, tortillas, or corn chips for dipping. If any of these sound strange or new, give them a try. After a while of eating whole foods, you and your child will no longer want to eat nutrient-free foods like cheetos. Veggies can be made more appealing to kids by cutting them into fun shapes or including some dairy-free dipping sauce like peanut sauce. Also, buy organic fruits and veggies whenever you can, for they are more nutritious and tastier. Studies show that kids who grow veggies in a garden are much more likely to try – and like – new veggies like eggplant. Try growing baby carrots with your kids: they are easy to grow and taste way better than the big carrots cut small to look like baby carrots.

When you pack a lunch for your kids (or spouse), slip in a little surprise like a little note of praise, a poem, a special rock, a finger puppet, or a cartoon. Your child will look forward to her special treat.

Try a few of these tips in your next packed lunch, and check out Feeding the Whole Family for recipes and more ideas!

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