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Vary Brown Bag Lunch With Creativity, Variety
By Chantel Lott
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Parents can spruce up school lunches without sacrificing nutrition or their children's satisfaction by including them in the planning process.
"The first step in planning any school lunch should be to ask a child what he or she wants to eat. Children tend to eat healthier if they have a say in the meal," said Barbara McLaurin, human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
Some parents end up buying the same expensive, single- serving, pre-packaged foods for their children's lunches week after week.
"One way to involve your children is in a grocery store treasure hunt. Challenge them to find fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables that they have never tried before. Make the trip exciting and adventurous like a game," McLaurin said.
Let children pick out foods for their lunch, especially as they get older. Praise their wise choices and suggest alternatives to unhealthy foods. Be sure to purchase some of their good choices.
"The key is to have fun, be creative and work with your child to make brown-bag lunches that are good and good for them," McLaurin said.
Alternative methods to jump-starting the school year with incredible lunches include using insulated lunch bags or ice packs because room-temperature meals are not always appetizing or safe.
Create healthy snacks at home with mini-bagels or whole- grain crackers topped with peanut butter, chicken salad or luncheon meat. Use cookie cutters to turn standard sandwiches into fun-shapes.
Vegetable variety is also important for young children. Fruits, such as grapes, blueberries, cherries or strawberries, that are naturally bite-size are perfect for lunches.
Dips are always a great additions to lunches. They add zest and jazz to almost any fruit or vegetable. Some favorites are ranch dressing with carrot or celery sticks, caramel-apple flavored yogurt for apple slices, or salsa for pretzels or baked tortilla chips.
"Keep tastebuds tingling by incorporating something crunchy with something chewy. Granola mix to stir in yogurt is a good choice. Balance saltier foods like pretzels or crackers with sweeter foods like orange slices," McLaurin said.
Dairy products are also important for children to eat. Send pudding made with skim milk for dessert or a piece of string cheese.
Fiber is important for children. Look for whole-grain breads and crackers. Pita pockets make an interesting looking sandwich. Air-popped popcorn, as well as fruits and vegetables provide fiber.