Give your children's brown bag lunch a healthy punch – one they won't trade away!
Step 1: Get them involved Get your child involved in lunch planning and preparation. Kids are more apt to eat a meal if they've been allowed some input.
Step 2: Be flexible Be flexible about what constitutes lunch. If your child prefers breakfast foods, let them take whole-grain cereal and chopped fruit and nuts, or hard-boiled eggs and turkey sausage.
TIP: Whenever you serve a nutritious dinner that your child enjoys, set aside a portion for them to take for lunch the next day. Warm the leftovers and pack them in an insulated lunch sack to keep the meal hot for up to five hours.
Step 3: Pack flavored milk Pack flavored milk; research shows children are more likely to drink it over the plain stuff. And even though it adds sugar to your child's diet, some studies indicate that flavored milk drinkers do not consume more sugar or fat than plain milk drinkers.
TIP: Do watch the overall sugar content of the lunch you pack; kids who eat a low-sugar lunch focus better throughout the afternoon, according to one study.
Step 4: Include dips If you're packing raw vegetables, include a tasty dip, like low-fat Ranch dressing, salsa, or hummus. Studies show kids will eat almost anything if they can dip it into something tasty. Let your child choose the vegetables and encourage them to try new ones. Include some fancy toothpicks so they can spear and dip.
Step 5: Focus on presentation Make the food look appetizing by including fruits and vegetables in vibrant colors and cutting them into eye-pleasing shapes. A kid who turns up their nose at a carrot stick might eat carrot curls.
Step 6: Rethink the sandwich Rethink the traditional sandwich. See if your child will eat their tuna salad between hearts of Romaine, inside a red pepper boat, or on celery stalks.
Step 7: Don't force any foods Don't bother packing foods you know your child won't eat; they'll just get traded or thrown away. Make it your mission to give them the most nutritious alternatives they will devour.
FACT: The typical school-age child generates 67 pounds of lunch trash over the course of the academic year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.