How to pack a healthy lunch your kids want to eat

Photos by Alex Brockman. This article originally appeared Sep. 2, 2016 on

With kids heading back to school next week, it’s time to start thinking about what to pack in their lunches.

As most parents know, it can be challenging to pack a lunch that tastes good after spending hours in a locker. Even more importantly, that lunch needs to provide enough nutrients to keep children active.

CBC spoke with Sarah Woodruff, a kinesiology professor at the University of Windsor, for some healthy lunch ideas that can make your kids forget about sugary snacks.

Veggies and hummus

  • Baby carrots
  • Chopped cucumbers
  • Hummus
  • Crackers
  • Grapes

Ham and cheese wrap

  • Ham and cheese
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Frozen fruit
  • Trail mix

Pasta salad

  • Leftover pasta
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Green peppers
  • Salad dressing
  • Chex mix
  • Peach

Woodruff says these three ideas are interchangeable and can be modified with little time and preparation.

As a specialist in nutrition and children, Woodruff says there are a few keys to keep in mind when thinking up your own lunch ideas while grocery shopping.

‘Variety is the key’

“You want to make sure the food doesn’t look the same or the colours are all the same,” Woodruff said. “You don’t want to have one single item. The variety is the key.”

“Colour is important, if everything is the same colour, that means it’s usually providing the same vitamin or nutrient,” she said. “You don’t want to be providing the same thing every day it gives your child variety.”

Get your kids involved

For parents with young children, it’s important to get them involved in the process. That’s true even for kids as young as eight — a demographic notorious known for picky eaters.

“One of the best things you can do is to get your child involved in the food preparation,” she said. “Maybe they get to choose their side, or their main course? Maybe they can help prepare, but getting them involved with the preparation really helps.”

Get feedback

If your kids don’t bring food home at the end of the day, talk to them about it, Woodruff says. Kids often have reasons other than “I didn’t like it” when it comes to deciding not to eat part of their lunch. Sandwiches get soggy and bananas get bruised.

Talking to your kids can make it easier to make sure, at the end of the day, your kids’ lunch boxes are empty and their stomachs are full.

Pack something frozen

Finally, food often looks delicious when it’s packed early in the morning, but that can change after a whole day in a locker.

Woodruff says a simple workaround for that is to freeze a bottle of water or a container of fruit the night before school. They will keep their lunches cold and allow them to thaw out by lunchtime.

“There’s a lot of research that suggests a healthy meal will help with academics,” she said. “You want to make sure they’re getting adequate food and nutrients so their brains can function and sit in a chair all day.”

wdr-Sarah Woodruff-lunches-Sept. 1, 2016


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