Kirk Conrad is the Chef in Residence at Project Bread – The Walk for Hunger, the largest antihunger organization in Massachusetts. For the past 5 years, Chef Kirk has worked in schools to change the food culture and eating habits of elementary, middle, and high school students. For more information on Project Bread, please visitwww.projectbread.org
As the Chef in Residence for Project Bread, I spend my days preparing nutritious lunches for students in schools, and ensuring that the meals kids eat at school are healthy ones. However, as a father of two, I know how difficult it can be to pack lunches that are both appealing and good for them. I’ve come up with a few tips that can make packing a wholesome, nutritious lunchbox a lot easier:
- Pack tomato and lettuce separately from sandwiches, as they can make sandwiches soggy and unappealing to kids.
- Making the switch from chocolate milk to 1% white milk can be easier than you think. To enforce this, you can take the hard line and make it the only thing you’re going to offer. A second thing is to make sure to educate your kids on how important it is for them to have the nutrients in white milk as opposed to strawberry and vanilla milk. Education and reinforcement are the best tools you have as a parent. And, finally, make every effort to keep milk very cold. Do this by keeping it in the refrigerator until morning and packing it right by the ice pack.
- At the grocery store, look for low-sodium and low-fat deli meats.
- To convince your kids to eat fruits and veggies at lunch, cut them into small, easy-to-eat pieces. If you cut up apples, douse with a little lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.
- If your child is a picky eater, substitute classics for healthier options. For example, if your child is a big peanut butter and jelly fan, you can give him or her a no-trans-fat sunflower-seed spread with a no-sugar fruit preserve.
- If my kids eat their healthy food, I feel that they can have a treat. Sometimes I buy baked multi-grain chips or vegetable chips in small packages. Look for reduced salt varieties. Also there are 100-calorie cookies that make a nice treat. We discuss the fact that their lunch comes first and then the treat.
When packing your child’s lunch, include them in the process. This is the most important step in making healthier lunches for kids. Talk about what ingredients are going in, you need to gain buy-in. If the kids don’t like what’s in the lunchbox, they simply will not eat it. You have to educate your children that what they have for lunch matters. My girls have taught me that it’s important to urge them to try new things and to compromise as we start the new school year.