Healthy Meal Ideas and What to Pack in a Healthy School Lunch
When school’s in session, it becomes hard to find time to get your family to eat healthy – especially for picky eaters at lunchtime. But getting nutritious food into your child before, during, and after school can be key to his success in and out of the classroom.
The ideal meal has a mix of nutrient-dense foods such as good carbohydrates and protein. Plan ahead to make sure your child gets a balanced breakfast. Starting the day with protein will give your child sustainable energy to last throughout the day and to avoid getting spikes and dips and crashing mid-morning.
Breakfast for Toddlers
Breakfast should include complex carbohydrates, some protein, and some fat. Fruit and low-fat dairy are key components to this meal.
An example of a healthy breakfast is:
- Whole grain waffle with peanut butter
- Glass of milk
- Piece of fruit
If your child resists breakfast, try some quick grabs like yogurt cups with fruit or peanut butter with apples. These can be assembled the night before in reusable containers, so they’re ready to eat in the morning. Including your child in the planning will help her eat well since she will have a sense of ownership in the process.
Lunch for Toddlers
For lunch, review the preschool lunch options with your child. If you choose to pack a lunch from home, try to include one thing from every food group.
An example of a nutritious lunch is:
- 1 slice of 100% whole wheat or sprouted bread;
- lean meat such as grilled chicken or roasted turkey;
- fruit or vegetable such as baby carrots;
- low-fat dairy such as yogurt or a carton of milk;
- Add a healthy fat, such as avocado, sunflower seed butter, peanut butter, or almond butter
Encourage your child to drink wisely by limiting fruit juice and choosing water or milk. A cookie or piece of chocolate can be a fun, occasional treat in your child’s lunch.
After-School Snacks for Toddlers
Have healthy power snacks available for your child when she gets home from school or before she heads to extracurricular activities.
Examples of some good after school snacks are:
- Little sandwiches with vegetables
- Whole-wheat wraps , such as a wrap with guacamole, cooked rice, black beans, and a little shredded cheese
- Hard-boiled egg boats (Cut hard-boiled egg in half, put a toothpick with a slice of cheese ‘flag’ on the end and voila – a sailboat snack)
- Bananas with peanut butter
- Healthy, low-sugar trail mixes
Put fresh fruit on the table and stock the fridge with low-fat dairy options like string cheese and yogurt.
Dinner for Toddlers
Dinner should also include all the food groups. If your child does not want to eat any dinner, do not be a short order cook. Put one item on your child’s plate that she will eat, even if it is just a dinner roll or spoonful of vegetables.
Some examples of healthy evening meals include:
- Whole grain pasta with beans or some chicken, tomato sauce, and sautéed broccoli
- Panko fried chicken with baked sweet potato and another vegetable on the side
- Oven-fried fish with a dinner roll, couscous and green beans
Research shows that about 20% of parents say their 2-5 year olds are picky eaters1. What can a parent do while waiting for their toddler to outgrow this? If you have a picky eater on your hands, keep in mind that a child sometimes needs to be exposed to a food 15-20 times before she tries it, so be a good example to her by trying different foods.
Modeling healthy eating for your family and involving them in meal planning are some of the best ways to ensure your child follows the path to healthy living. Encourage your child to stay active and to try a varied diet, and she will be on her way to a successful and fun school year.
- Maryann Jacobsen, RD, MS, From Picky to Powerful