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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

July 26, 2021 - 2:01pm --

The start of the next school year is just around the corner, which means figuring out the routine all over again. One piece of that routine might include packing lunches, which can feel like a hassle sometimes. Yet a healthy lunch is important for a child’s growth and development. If you pack your child’s lunch or want to start, check out these tips adapted from OSU Wexner Medical Center on what to include and avoid.

Try to get every food group in a healthy packed lunch. The food groups are vegetables, fruit, grains, protein and dairy. Why include all the food groups? Because each group helps provide important nutrients.Items like whole grains and beans add complex carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit add vitamins, and milk or yogurt can help with calcium intake, which is needed for growing bones.

Pre-packaged lunches often contain highly processed foods like lunch meat and refined grains. Convenient items like lunch meat, chips, cookies and sports drinks should only be included occasionally because they lack nutrition and often contain high amounts of sodium and preservatives. Instead, try using whole grains, meat that hasn’t been processed, and add some veggies and fruit – like carrots and an apple.

Don’t focus on calories for healthy lunches. It’s more important to focus on getting a variety of healthy foods. Offer healthy foods and allow your child to pick. If kids are used to eating highly processed foods, it will take some time to adjust. Help your child understand why the change is important for their body to work better.

Try giving kids some ownership over their health. When old enough, let them help pack their own lunch. This helps kids enjoy their lunch more and learn essential life skills. This also helps if you’re worried your child isn’t eating the packed lunch. Get them involved! Michigan State University Extension suggests with some guidance, kids can choose the foods they would like to eat for lunch, which means less worry their lunch won’t be eaten. Make packing lunch easier by asking the kids to help create a list of the foods they will eat for their lunches and try not to restrict the list to typical lunch foods. Doing this can provide more options for adults and children. Some choices could include a bowl of cereal, tuna and crackers, bean and cheese burrito with salsa, cottage cheese with peaches, peeled hard-boiled egg, cheese sticks, or a variety of cut vegetables and fruits. Lunches can even include leftovers. What might be on your family’s list?

Now you might be thinking - but my kid is a picky eater! Most children are picky eaters at some point. It’s a way to assert independence, but some kids are picker than others, so what can be done to prevent it? Here are a few ideas adapted from the Harvard Health Blog and UC Davis Health.

Have family meals. Eating together focuses on the social aspect of eating rather than the food. Enjoy mealtime together. Also, make the same meal for everyone. Try to offer at least one thing on the plate your child likes in addition to the other foods served to everyone.

Don’t force a child to eat. Encourage trying new foods but don’t get into fights over it, and don’t make them finish everything on their plate.A 2020 study of picky eaters found when parents were strict about foods their kids can and can’t eat, or were demanding about a child’s eating, the child was more likely to be a picky eater.

Involve children in meal planning and preparation. Look through recipes together and be willing to try new things. Take them to the grocery store to help shop for food. If you can, grow some foods at home to add to your meals.

Other tips include trying new foods when your child is hungry, varying food textures to find what your child prefers, arranging food in creative ways or giving food a fun name, and avoid bribing your child with sweet treats. Change takes time, so be patient. If nothing seems to be working, talk to your doctor. Packing school lunches doesn’t have to be a boring task. Find ways to include the kids and make it into a positive learning experience.

Sara Meeks is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264- 8722.