In the quest to fuel your child with heart-healthy foods that won’t weigh them down (or your pocketbook), here are 10 tasty, healthy, and economical options for your child to take to school or summer camp. Just make sure you keep these items cold (cold items should stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times) by packing their lunches in an insulated bag and tossing in an ice pack along with it.
A healthy lunch should always include these key ingredients:
- Whole grain. Your child needs fiber for good health and cholesterol control. So always pack a whole grain with lunch. Whole wheat bread, English muffins, pita, tortillas, whole grain pasta, and crackers are all examples.
- Lean protein. Protein will help satisfy their appetite and give them much-needed energy for the afternoon. Alternate plant and animal-based protein options throughout the week. Nuts, peanut butter, beans, lean beef, chicken, tofu, milk, yogurt or fish are good sources of protein.
- Veggies. Your child needs at least 1 ½ cups of veggies each day so supply at least ½ to 1 cup at lunch. Baby carrots, cucumber or pepper slices, veggie soup, grape tomatoes or spinach – your options are endless.
- Fruit. Fresh fruit is a great way to end a meal with a little “sweet” touch. Pack fresh, dried or canned (in light syrup) fruit in your child’s lunch every day. If they are too full to eat it for lunch, it makes a great portable mid-afternoon snack.
Spread a ¼ cup portion of hummus over a whole-wheat tortilla and top with diced tomatoes, romaine lettuce, grated carrot, and sliced artichoke. Roll tightly. Add a serving of nonfat yogurt, a handful of nuts, and an apple.
Some kids just don’t like to eat a sandwich, but you can still give them the “insides” of a sandwich and serve with whole grain crackers. Pack a serving of whole grain crackers and let them top with any of the following protein-rich foods: rolled turkey breast lunchmeat, tuna salad made with light mayo, 2% fat cheddar cheese slices, or hummus. Toss in a baggie of cooked and cooled edamame (green soy beans), 1 cup diced melon, and a carton of milk.
Make a few extra servings of whole wheat penne pasta next time you prepare pasta for dinner. The following day, let your child delight in this amazingly tasty pasta salad: Toss in cooked and sliced chicken breast (from leftovers), halved grape tomatoes, and spinach leaves. Zest some lemon over the pasta and stir in some olive oil, lemon juice and chopped fresh basil for a delightfully easy meal. Don’t forget to pack a serving of milk and fruit.
Mexicali Rice Surprise
Take a serving of leftover cooked brown rice and toss in the following: black beans, chopped scallions, diced red pepper, and thawed yellow corn. Stir in a little lime juice, olive oil and ground cumin. Serve with brown rice tortilla chips, salsa, and mango slices.
Kids love pizza, and there’s nothing wrong with leftovers – especially if it’s homemade pizza! Take two slices of leftover whole wheat veggie pizza and serve with a small tossed salad with light dressing and a cup of sliced strawberries.
Cottage Cheese and Veggies
Some kids love cottage cheese – others absolutely hate it. Give it another try with this creative assortment. Portion a ½-cup serving of 2% milkfat cottage cheese and top with grape tomatoes, cucumber slices and a sprinkling of fresh dill. Serve with whole grain crackers and a medium orange.
Spread 2 Tablespoons natural peanut butter into a whole-wheat tortilla. Sprinkle with diced apple and raisins or banana and raisins and a drizzle of agave nectar. Roll tightly. Serve with nonfat Greek yogurt and baby carrots.
On a few wooden skewers, alternate turkey, ham, 2% cheese, and grape tomatoes. Serve with whole grain crackers, a carton of chocolate milk and a small peach.
Stuff a small whole-wheat pita with canned chicken, tuna or salmon salad. Mix 2 ounces of the drained protein choice with diced onion and celery, 1 Tbsp light mayonnaise and a dash of Dijon mustard. Stuff in sliced tomato and lettuce leaves. Serve with a thermos filled with your child’s favorite vegetable soup, a piece of fruit, and carton of low-fat milk.
Not Your Usual Salad
Buy bagged, pre-washed salad mix and toss in canned drained chickpeas, diced low-fat cheese, sliced olives, cucumber, and pepper. Toss with your child’s favorite light vinaigrette dressing and top with slivered almonds and craisins. Serve with a whole wheat roll and a carton of low-fat milk.