WINCHESTER — If you struggle finding healthy ideas when packing lunches for your children, try starting off the new school year with some tips from regional Martin’s nutritionist Joni Rampolla.
The first day of school is Aug. 19 for Winchester Public Schools, Aug. 23 for Frederick County Public Schools and Aug. 31 for Clarke County Public Schools.
When packing a lunch and snack for children, Rampolla suggests including all five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. She also recommends packing at least three food groups for lunch and at least two remaining food groups for a snack.
If your child has a favorite food, Rampolla said it’s good to work with that and come up with creative ways to make it a little better or different.
It’s good to pack a lunch that keeps a child full and satisfied so they can be fueled throughout the day as they are learning, she added, noting that there should be a variety of color, texture and taste in a child’s lunchbox.
For children who like to dip their food, Rampolla said it never hurts to pack fruit with yogurt on the side to dip. You can also pack vegetables to dip into plain yogurt mixed with dried ranch seasoning.
You can also try serving mini fruit skewers on toothpicks by stacking together kiwi, pineapple, grapes and strawberries. To mix it up a bit, Rampolla suggested adding a cut up mozzarella cheese stick to the toothpicks.
If your child likes breakfast for lunch, she suggested serving a whole grain pancake wrapped around a chicken sausage link. Other options include a fruit taco, where you cut a circular shape out of bread without crust and layer it with peanut or almond butter, strawberries and blueberries.
For those who have an air fryer at home, Rampolla also said it’s good to make healthier chips out of sweet potatoes, carrots or apples.
Parents with leftover pasta or quinoa can add vegetables to make a tasty side of vegetable or pasta salad.
Another possibility is the sandwich kabob, where you layer bread with various veggies, meat and cheeses and connect them with toothpicks.
Or, there is the deconstructed pizza or taco that your children can assemble as they eat.
Rampolla also advises to avoid fruity, sweet drinks and to give fruit as a dessert in lunches instead of candy.
Even if you put a lot of effort into a meal and a child doesn’t eat it, she adds that it’s important to not get mad or emotional about it. She added that food should should be considered a fuel source and not a reward or punishment.
Rampolla said making healthy, fun lunches “doesn’t have to be complicated.” Just remember to select the flavors your child likes while making different and good combinations, she said.