Schools out! Let the summer fun begin! For parents everywhere, this means readying their kids for fun in the sun with a wholesome lunch that’s summer camp worthy. So, what constitutes a healthy lunch that kids will actually eat? First, let’s look at the “Don’ts” for a well-rounded lunch.
DON’T pack items that contain an excess of sugar. An overabundance of sweets, as most parents well know, cause blood sugar levels to spike, resulting in hyperactivity. For about an hour, kids will run around like the EnergizerÃ?Â© bunny, but the level of sugar in the blood will quickly plummet, leaving them sluggish and looking for another sugar fix.
DON’T pack soft drinks. Like sugary snacks, soft drinks are filled with empty calories. When kids are thirsty, they need a drink that will quench their thirst. Soft drinks will only increase their thirst the more they drink.
DON’T pack heavy or rich foods. While lunch is a great way to rid the fridge of leftovers, it will be too much for an active child. Also, if the recreation center in your town or city is anything like mine, there are no facilities for refrigeration on site. Children are required to use insulated lunch bags with ice packs or to bring food that requires no refrigeration at all.
Now, let’s get to the “down and dirty” when assembling a power-packed summer lunch bag. Kids are very visual people. Lunch must look every bit as good as it needs to taste.
Drinks -The popular choice these days is a drink box or pouch of some sort. For an even healthier alternative, try flavored water. If your kids like drink pouched, Capri-SunÃ?Â© now makes fruit flavored water beverages. Kool-AidÃ?Â© makes drink crystal packets in various flavors that are convenient and easy to carry. All you need is a bottle of water. Sports drinks like Gatorade are another alternative. They replenish electrolytes in the body for children who play especially hard.
Sandwiches -Welcome to the main course! Use whole wheat or whole grain breads to keep your sandwich healthy. A wheat hoagie roll or hamburger bun is a great alternative to sliced bread. Low-fat luncheon meats and sliced cheeses are available in every grocery store. Choose from boiled or honey-baked ham, roasted turkey, roast beef, and pastrami to name a few. Double check the nutritional information on the back of the package to make sure that low-fat is truly “low-fat”. Observe the portion sizes. Overloading the sandwich with meat defeats the purpose of making the lunch healthy. For added color, add lettuce, tomato, pickles, or a combination of these or another favorite sandwich veggie for added nutrition. For a more imaginative look, use cookie cutters to create fancy shaped bite-sized sandwiches. The young ones tend to like this more, but older kids enjoy it too. For safety, purchase pre-packaged condiments to add to lunches instead of spreading mustard or mayonnaise directly on the bread.
Snacks – If your kids are like mine, they live for snacks. Snacks can function as a midmorning pick-me-up, a mid-afternoon “energy booster”, or just the perfect end to a satisfying lunch. As a midmorning pick-me-up, try fruit snacks or string cheese. Both come in a variety of shapes and flavors and are individually packaged for convenience. Fresh fruit in season will also satisfy a sudden craving by that sweet tooth. Nectarines, apples, grapes, or a handful of dried fruit should do the trick.
NabiscoÃ?Â© makes a whole line of 100 calorie snacks that replace traditional cookies and chips as the end to a perfect lunch-chocolate chip, graham cracker, fruit snacks, and trail mix varieties to name a few. There is no need for counting or measuring so parents don’t have to worry that their kids are getting too much of a good thing.
For an energy boost later in the day, try something a bit more creative like “Bumps on a Log”. First, take a stalk of celery, washed and cut into two-inch pieces. Next, cover each piece with your favorite reduced-fat peanut butter. Finally, top each “log” with a few raisin pieces. Substitute the raisins for dates or dried cranberries once in a while for a different taste treat.
Wholesome lunches are very important to a child’s overall nutritional health. Obesity in children is a major issue in this country. Parents: you now have the tools, so get to work! Teaching kids to make good food choices now can avoid serious health issues later in their lives.