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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:
Choose whole wheat bread instead of white. Whole grains are loaded with nutrients and fiber, while their refined counterparts are lacking. To make sure your bread is whole wheat, check the label. The first ingredient should be whole wheat, not just wheat flour. If your child is used to the refined version, try switching to a hybrid variety first, which contains some whole grains mixed with refined flour.
Don't skip fruits and vegetables. Many kids are partial to fruits, but vegetables are important too. Include peanut butter or ranch dressing as a dip for carrots, celery, or cherry tomatoes. Add finely minced kale and zucchini to soups or stews, where it may sneak past your detective. For fruit, fresh is best. If you must use canned (it may be time-saving and cheaper), make sure it is preserved in fruit juice, not syrup.
Include protein for sustained energy. Besides lean meats, good protein sources include nuts, cheese, and beans. Some easy-to-pack examples include cheese cubes, almond butter (like peanut butter, but made with almonds instead), trail mix, hummus, and mock-meat deli slices (found in the natural foods section of your local grocery).
Add calcium. Include milk money or pack calcium-enriched orange juice, soymilk, or rice milk.
Avoid soda and other sweetened drinks. Water and 100% fruit juices are better choices.