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Healthy Lunches
for All Ages

Posted on September 4, 2012 by Dr. Andrea Hoglen

Its Back-to-School day here in Plymouth! So now is a great time to think about making healthier diet choices for the school-year to come. Even though these healthier lunch ideas are great for kids, they make for excellent adult lunches as well!

Healthy Lunch Quick Tips:

Buy a Thermos – It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold!

Try to balance foods that are high in calories with fresh fruits and vegetables. Give your kids energy through long-lasting protein and natural sugars.

Keep food safe! Remember that foods will sit in the lunchbox for several hours. Every lunch container should contain a freezer pack or frozen water-bottle. Insulated lunch containers are also a great idea.

Leftovers make GREAT lunches! When making dinner, cook an extra serving to use as lunch for the next day!

Be adventurous! Expand your options by helping your family try new foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Trying them out at home before you pack them in the lunchbox will help your picky-eaters to embrace the change!

The Best and Worst for your Lunches!

Fruit – Fresh is best! Dried fruit is sticky and high in sugar, so should only be eaten occasionally or mixed with a high-protein item to help lower their glycemic impact (like dried cranberries in a chicken salad, yum!) Dried fruit bars, “fruit snacks,” and roll-ups are high in sugar and low in fiber. They can cause tooth decay and sugar-highs.

Veggies – Vegetable sticks with a small container of dip is a great idea. Try cherry tomatoes, peas, or cucumbers. Don’t include potato chips.

Dairy – (Only if you are not dairy sensitive!) Cheese slices, cubes, or sticks are good. Try a high-protein greek yogurt (no-sugar added) with fresh fruit. Yogurt can be frozen to keep it cold. It will thaw enough by lunch time. Avoid puddings, chocolate milk, high-sugar yogurts, and other “dairy desserts”. If you’re sensitive to dairy and looking for alternatives, make sure to avoid products made with GMO soy or heavy amounts of added sugar.

Drinks – Water and milk are the best choices. For individuals with a dairy sensitivity, try unsweetened rice-milk, coconut-milk, or almond-milk. Many of these now come in juice-box style packaging to make it easier in the morning! Real fruit juice (no-sugar added) is better than most fruit drinks, but both are high in sugar. We also like herbal fruit flavored iced teas (no caffeine but naturally sweeter). Avoid sports drinks, flavored water, fruit drinks, and especially pop. All of these contain high amounts of sugar and are too ‘filling’ (taking the place of healthy foods!). They also increase the risk of tooth decay and sugar crashes.

Muffins/Cakes – These high-sugar items are also high in inflammatory grains. These foods should only be encouraged on special occasions. Alternatively, make your own muffins using grain-free flour substitutes and protein mixes to help give your child sustainable energy.

GREAT Foods for Lunch – Check out these ideas to INSPIRE you!!

Healthy Side Dishes

Fruits: Grapes, Strawberries, Melon, Kiwi, Apple, Pears, Oranges, Bananas, Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries

Veggies with hummus or home-made (MSG-free) ranch dip: Celery, Carrots, Cucumber, Tomatoes, Bell Peppers

Garbanzo Bean Salad

Trail Mix with nuts and dried fruit

Cottage Cheese with Fruit

Cheddar Cheese with Apple Slices

Baked Corn chips with bean-dip, salsa or hummous

Kale or Carrot Chips

Dairy (or Dairy-Free Alternatives): Cheese or Greek Yogurt

Quinoa Pudding

Organic Applesauce (with No Added Sugars)

Tossed Salad or Chopped Salad

Healthy Sandwiches!

We know sandwiches are quick and easy, but keep in mind that they also include more grains in your family's diet. Consider a low-carb tortilla or Lettuce wrap sandwich. You can also try alternative breads, like Ezekiel bread (available at most grocery stores in the wheat-free or health-food area).

Try these ideas for new and healthy sandwich fillings:

Cheese and Avocado, with optional sprouts

Grilled Cheese with cucumber or sprouts

Leftover grilled veggies with cheese or pesto

Leftover turkey with lettuce, cheese and tomato

Chicken or turkey with home-made honey mustard and lettuce

Chicken salad made with celery, lettuce, and tomato

Skip the sandwich! Try an Alternative Entrée!

Chef Salad with dressing (package the dressing and meats separately for freshness).

Pure Protein – Lean meat (chicken breast or turkey) or a hard boiled egg with salt or mustard

Tuna/Chicken Salad with cucumber or apple slices

Chicken & Fruit Salad


Stuffed Chicken

Fighting Peer Pressure

Understand that your children are influenced by advertising and the food choices of their friends. Not every child is sent to school with chips and candy – despite what your child might say. Offering them familiar foods and a variety of choices will help them learn healthy choices. It will take time to change your child’s food preferences. Start slowly by substituting one healthy item at a time. If you are looking to discover what your child may be “trading” away, ask them to bring home uneaten lunch items. Find out why your child didn’t eat a particular food, and you can help change their eating habits. Remember to be patient!

Tips for Picky Eaters

Regardless of the meal, the picky eater in the family will resist the change to healthier foods. Try these tips to help your child in the right direction.

Prepare your child. Talk about nutrition and why it is important that they eat healthy foods.

Think Positive. If your child sees that you enjoy these healthy changes, he will be more likely to join in.

Involve your child. Children of any age can help with menu planning. Children who feel they have a part in choosing and planning the meal will be more likely to eat it.

Introduce a variety of healthy foods. Offer a variety of vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Again, choice is an important factor in getting your child to eat different foods. Keep healthy boundaries. Instead of asking your child “What do you want for lunch?” ask them “Would you like a turkey sandwich or a chicken quesadilla?”

Add new foods with old favorites. Familiar items on the menu will help to ease the transition. Applaud when they try new foods.

Introduce new foods in small portions. It is less frightening to eat a few bites of a new food. Slowly increase portion size as the child gets more accustomed to a new item.

Offer different preparations of the same food. The way it is presented may make all the difference for your child. Try combining foods with different seasonings or combinations. Try raw or steamed veggies. Try carrot sticks and carrot coins.

Use the two-bite rule. Have the child try only two bites of something on their plate, then move to a different item. Insist that they must have at least two-bites of everything on their plate.

Consider the meaning of “I don’t like it.” Many times this common phrase really means something like “I’d rather have a piece of chocolate cake,” or “I’m not in the mood for this right now.” Insist that the child try two-bites.

Don’t be a short-order cook! Prepare one meal for the whole family. Your child may refuse to eat. Stay calm, stand firm, and ignore tantrums. Your child will not die of hunger from skipping a meal, but will be more likely to come to the next meal with a healthy appetite and a greater willingness to eat what is served. If your child still rejects food, use the two-bite rule.

Don’t forbid foods. Forbidden foods will quickly become their greatest desire. They will trade foods at school to get what they are not allowed at home. Teach your children the difference between everyday foods, and special occasion foods. Allow them to choose a special food that they can eat guilt-free at regular, infrequent intervals.

Avoid food as rewards. Neither dessert nor candy should be used as punishment or reward. Rather, enforce rules about when treats are allowed, and how many. 

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