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Healthy & Fun Lunch Ideas for Kids

Think Outside the Lunch Box Next Time You Pack
  -- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
Although a packed lunch can be a healthy alternative to cafeteria food, making sure all those required vitamins and minerals also squeeze into that brown bag can be a challenge. Just as the hot lunch counter may be laden with unhealthy foods, so may a poorly packed lunch. Whether your child wants to pack lunch every day or just on "mystery meat Mondays," there are a few things to consider when he or she forgoes the cafeteria fare.

Make It Nutritious
To ensure that your child has ample fuel to power through those long classes, make sure they are eating a wide variety of foods from the major food groups. Use the "Plate" method (which replaced the Food Guide Pyramid in 2011) as a guide to make sure you're covering all the bases. Here are some additional tips on making lunchtime nutritious:

Make it Delicious
Even if you did pack a cottage-cheese-stuffed bell pepper and a bran muffin, that doesn't necessarily mean that it made its way to your child's tummy. This lunch might please your palate, but younger taste buds aren't generally so adventurous. And if they don't like it, they probably won't eat it—especially if you're not around. The best way to ensure that lunch ends up where it should is to recruit some help when packing it. Research shows kids enjoy food more if they've helped in its preparation. Besides letting them chop and bag, there are many ways to get them involved: Make it Safe
No matter how nutritious and delicious your child's lunch may be, it could cause her harm if it is not prepared and stored according to food safety guidelines. To ensure that your child's egg salad sandwich is Staphylococcus-free, follow these guidelines.
Although packing lunches may take a little more time than handing your kids a fistful of cash as they dart out the front door, it is also an opportunity to teach nutrition and planning skills, and to connect with your kids. Research shows that kids who eat healthy throughout childhood are more likely to be healthy adults, and packing a healthy lunch is yet another way to promote this behavior.

Want to get kids off to a healthy start this school year? So does SparkPeople! With "A Month of Fun and Healthy School Lunches," you'll end the food fight and get kids excited about packing lunch--with fun yet simple meals they'll actually eat. Written by a mother of three, with 50 easy and healthy recipes plus plenty of ideas tested by real moms in real life, this e-book turns lunchtime into fun time! Bonus: You'll also get 25 healthy, kid-friendly after-school snack ideas! Click here to check it out!