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Day after day, it can be tough to figure out what to pack in your wee ones’ lunch boxes, especially if they’d prefer to live on fish-shaped crackers. But breaking kiddos out of the peanut-butter–and-jelly mold with a healthy midday meal can lead to more happiness, increased creativity, better test scores — and a bright smile when they tear into their food.
You can help your youngster avoid cavities (and a moody afternoon sugar-crash) by steering clear of artificially sweet foods and drinks for lunch and snacks. If they don’t have time to brush and floss after lunch, encourage them to at least rinse their teeth with water to keep decay at bay.
So what do you pack? Fixing an A+ lunch — even for a picky progeny — doesn’t have to be rocket science. Instead, check out Harvard’s simple lunch box formula: “Fill half your lunch box with colorful fruits or vegetables, one-quarter with whole grains, and the remaining quarter with healthy proteins.”
Fresh out of the bento box, here are a few creative ideas for delicious, nutritious lunches to whip up for your whippersnapper (and you, too!):
Gotta a little one who loves waffles? Eating Well recommends serving them for lunch! Just use the whole-grain kind, spread them with sunflower butter (a great source of healthy fat), and top them with sliced apples (a surprising superfood for your choppers). Add sides of grapefruit, tomatoes, and hard-boiled eggs for a complete midday meal.
Mixing and matching six healthy ingredients — whole-grain pasta, eggs, canned black beans, salad mix, chicken stock, and grilled chicken — will get you lunches for a week, according to Parents.com.
Weelicious thinks kids may want to make their own lunches with this idea: spear healthy ingredients on a skewer to make sandwich kabobs! Stack cherry tomatoes, pieces of string cheese, rolled-up turkey slices, bits of lettuce, and squares of whole grain bread for a new take on an old favorite.
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri of the Food Network makes lunch easy with an all-in-one, tasty turkey chili that packs in protein, fiber, and complex carbs. Including this mini, whole-wheat cinnamon roll from Amy’s Healthy Baking is an optional, but sweet treat.
Pro Tip:To be sure the chili is still comfortingly warm at lunchtime, don’t skip the step of pre-heating the thermos with boiling water.
Bon Appétit suggests creating a teeny taco bar in a bento box. Separate yummy, nutritious toppings — avocado slices, salsa, shredded cheese — from a black bean-and-beef filling and tortillas. Substitute lean ground turkey in the filling or make it vegetarian with plant-based Impossible Burger patties. (P.S. Cheese and other calcium-rich foods strengthen tooth enamel, too.)
Pro Tip: Silicone cupcake liners make it even easier to keep ingredients apart in lunch boxes.
British celebrity chef Jaime Oliver, who gave school lunches a healthy makeover on his reality show “Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution,” offers families a recipe for Malaysian-style pumpkin rice laksa soup on WebMD.
Filled with vitamin A — an essential nutrient for healthy gums and teeth — the soup makes a delicious autumn dinner, then reheats nicely for school-time lunch. Oliver advises: “If you persevere and don’t get upset if they won’t try new things the first time, eventually most kids will get into new tastes.”
Create a colorful, produce-packed lunch with these mini rainbow sandwiches from Super Heathy Kids. Add sides of banana chips, blueberries, and carrot sticks for the brightest bento in the cafeteria! Plus, the fiber in all those fruits and veggies helps scrub off plaque from petite pearly whites.
Need more ideas? 100 Days of Real Food has 342 lunch possibilities for your and your child to peruse. Made with wholesome, simple ingredients, the lunches listed can also be filtered by dietary restrictions, such as “gluten-free” or “vegetarian.”