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How To Make Healthy Lunches and Snacks For Children

by Qula Madkin, MSU Extension Service

Video by Jonathan Parrish

No matter how your children go back to school this year, healthy lunches and snacks will provide them with the nutrition they need to learn, grow, and build their immune systems.

By providing your children with nutritious foods, they are more prepared to learn and grow at home or school.

The secret to preparing or packing healthy lunches and snacks for school or learn-at-home settings is to provide delicious, nutrient-rich, filling foods from each food group at every meal and snack, if possible.

Think VARIETY. Here are a few quick and easy tips to provide the most nutrition for children’s growing bodies:

  • Include whole grains to boost carbohydrates and fiber. To make whole grains more kid-friendly, try white wheat or whole-grain bread and crackers.

  • Choose items that list whole grain as the first ingredient on the food label. Another way to ensure you are buying a whole-grain product is to look for items with 3 grams or more of fiber per serving. Some whole grain ingredients include whole oats, whole grain rye, whole grain wheat flour, etc. Whole-grain cereal is an excellent alternative to chips and is budget-friendly.

  • Offer a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins A, C, K and fiber. Dried fruit can be a great addition to cereal, popcorn or trail mix.

  • Don’t forget the dip. Low-fat salad dressing, salsa, or hummus are great options.

  • Add calcium-rich foods from low-fat dairy products, like yogurt, cheese and milk. Don’t eat dairy? No problem. You can get calcium from fortified non-dairy sources like soy milk, soy yogurt, almond milk and 100 percent fruit juice, just to name a few.

  • Include other sources of calcium, such as broccoli, nuts, seeds, beans, collard greens and other green, leafy vegetables.

  • Ensure children feel full longer by adding protein to each meal and snack. Both animal and plant sources provide a variety of choices, including eggs, nuts, beans, fish and lean meats. Making sure they stay hydrated will also help. Remind them to drink water often.

Let Them Help

Get them involved in the kitchen. Allow them to be creative with meals and snacks, especially leftovers. They may have some great ideas on ways to make something out of nothing.

If you are not in the mood to fix lunch at home or don’t have much food, check with your school district to see if they are providing school meals. Some school districts are providing meals for delivery or pick-up if the children are learning virtually. Meals and snacks served at school are a great option as well.

If your children are headed back to the classroom part-time or full-time check out these tips if they will be taking their lunch from home:

  • Use throw-away bags to send to school to avoid a lunch box/bag going back and forth from home to school

  • Send easy-to-open items, such as zip-top bags, twist-off tops and flip-top water bottles.

  • Avoid sending containers that are difficult to open, including yogurt tubes, thin plastic packages, beverages with difficult-to-open tops and juice boxes with straws that need to be inserted.

TAKE NOTE: Each school is handling lunchtime differently. Be sure to follow your school’s guidelines for bringing food from home.

Keep Them Moving

If your children are at home for school, give them movement breaks throughout the day. Enjoy a walk, hopscotch, basketball, kickball, hide-and-seek, bike riding, active video games or even chores. Let them find what they like to do and get moving.

Encourage 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Break it up into smaller chunks, 20 minutes at a time if you need to.

This physical activity may be even more important when your children get home because they may have limits on outdoor activities at school. Take time to go for a walk or play an outdoor game when your family is together.

If you need ideas for Quick and Healthy Snacks, we have a round-up of some tasty recipes that have appeared on our blog on The Food Factor.

Having a hard time getting your children to try raw veggies or salad? Whip up a batch of ranch dressing. Natasha shows you How to Make Your Own Ranch Dressing in this blog post of The Food Factor.

Check out Qula’s tips on How to Get More Water in Your Diet on our blog post.

For more information and tips on nutrition for children and recipes for healthy meals and snacks, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Want to learn more about nutrition and health? Join the MSU Extension Nutrition and Health Facebook group for more tips and information.

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