Getting your kids to eat healthy can be a challenge at times. And, when they're at school there's the obvious temptation to go for unhealthy food choices.
So, what can you do?
Well, it's a bit of a cliché, but good nutrition really does start at home. If your family eats healthy most the time, your children will be more inclined to eat whatever healthy food you pack into their lunch.
Children (and adults!) like familiarity. So, when they find the same type of foods in their lunch box as they eat at home, it gives them a sense of security.
So, here's how to make their lunches full of variety and fun:
1. Vary the breads
Sandwiches are the staple of the lunch box, and an easy solution. To keep your kids from getting bored with the same old sandwiches, switch the breads around a little.
Remember, white bread isn't a good choice, so go for a healthier wholegrain or wholewheat bread. Try pita pockets stuffed with chicken or turkey and fresh vegetables. You can also use English muffins to make small pizzas, or go for bagels for even more variety.
If your children are younger, you may like to use a cookie cutter to shape their sandwiches — this can make a few plain sandwiches seem rather exciting!
2. Cook your own meats
While you may be tempted to use processed lunch meats because they're so convenient, these meats are full of sodium and other preservatives that are unhealthy for your children.
Instead, cook your own meat to use in their lunches. Perhaps cook some extra turkey, beef or chicken the evening before, then use the extra for making the next days lunches.
3. Add fruits and vegetables
Fruit is one of the things which keeps coming back in the lunch box day after day. A very simply solution is to give them a fruit salad already chopped and ready to eat, rather than giving a whole apple, for example.
You could also try making a fruit parfait with fresh fruits and natural yogurt, topped with granola. Kids also love to dip things, so carrots or celery sticks with a vegetable dip are a good idea. Older children may even go for a small salad with dressing on the side.
4. Try hot meals
If your children are old enough, you could send some hot food in an insulated food jar, as an alternative to the regular lunch options. Just about anything that can be heated and fit into an insulated food cup can be packed in your child's lunch.
Leftover soup, chili or beef stew from the night before work very well. You could even add a serving a spaghetti or lasagne to these containers.
5. Build it yourself
Children love the idea of putting together their own lunch. But, rather than spending lots of money on pre-packaged meals, you can prepare thin slices of lean meats, various cheeses, along with a healthy salad, and some whole wheat crackers. Throw in a little hummus for dipping in a separate small container, and your children will be able to create their own lunch.
Once you start thinking past the same old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the healthy ideas for your kid's lunch are endless.
Remember, healthy eating doesn't come naturally, but it can be learned. If you also take a lunch to work, you can set a good example for your child in this way, too. You could even allow your children to you help decide what to put in your lunch box — make it a fun team effort and learning experience all in one!
Melanie Thomassian is a registered dietitian, and author of Dietriffic.com. Get more healthy eating tips by visiting her website.