Nutrition

4 creative ways to help your kid eat a healthy lunch

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<b>Barbecue Chicken Sandwich with Coleslaw (top) and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus on Tortilla</b> Photography by David Scott Author: Canadian Living Credits: <b>Barbecue Chicken Sandwich with Coleslaw (top) and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus on Tortilla</b> Photography by David Scott

Nutrition

4 creative ways to help your kid eat a healthy lunch

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Anyone with wee ones knows kids can be very choosy eaters.

Sure, it would be a lot easier to stuff anything into kids' lunch boxes. But moms and dads want kids to grow up with a balanced diet, and a willingness to explore all sorts of foods.

So how do parents prepare healthy, interesting lunches kids will eat without making it an exhausting chore? Here are a few suggestions for creative lunch ideas that will help make the lunch-making process smoother for you, and tastier for your kids.

Kids 6 to 9 years

Creative lunch idea #1: It’s a small world after all
Kids love tiny things they can wrap their hands around, and food is no exception. Sandwiches, in their many forms, are perfect for making mini.

• Remove the crusts of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cut it into four triangles or soldiers. Or, try using a cookie cutter to give sandwiches playful shapes.

• Tightly roll a tortilla - with egg salad, or cream cheese, lettuce and ham - and cut it into bite-sized pinwheels.

There are endless sandwich-making options. Buy mini pitas or bagels and stuff them with sprouts, tomato, roast chicken and mayo.  Our Barbecue Chicken Sandwich with Coleslaw (image featured above) can easily translate into smaller, more interesting sandwich bites.

Creative lunch idea #2: Already small? Make it smaller
Raw fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and nutrients, but they don’t do any good if your child trades them at recess or throws them away. Six- to 9-year-olds can still have a tough time biting into and chewing crunchy carrots and apples, or get discouraged by celery’s stringy bits.

• Make veggies and fruit more kid-friendly. Peel oranges and segment them, remove the seeds and pack in a container.

• Pick apples such as Ambrosia, Braeburn, or Courtland which don’t brown as quickly when cut and send apple slices or sticks.

Seedless grapes are a parent’s dream. Make a fruit salad but cut the pieces super small and add a little honey or maple syrup.

Invest in a specialized knife, such as a Benriner or a Japanese mandolin, which retail for around $30. Several different blade options allow you to julienne veggies and hard fruits into matchsticks, or cut paper-thin strips that are easy and fun to eat in less than half the time it would take you to do it with a knife.

Page 1 of 2Kids 10 to 14 years
Creative lunch idea #1: Preloved goodness
Chances are if your child liked their dinner the night before, they’ll enjoy it the next day, too. Kids are often more willing to eat cold leftovers than we are, especially favourites like pizza. Get into the habit of making extras with every dinner to save time and provide a greater variety (make enough for your own lunch, too!).

• Turn roasted potatoes into a roasted potato salad for lunch by adding a simple vinaigrette or some mayo, and maybe scallions, chopped spinach or cherry tomatoes for more adventurous eaters.

• Cook ‘too much’ orzo the night before while making pasta and tomato sauce and convert it to a quick-and-easy pasta salad the next day. Drizzle in some olive oil, toss in grated cheese, fresh tomatoes and peppers, squeeze on a few drops of lemon juice and voilà.

• Roasted chicken breast is great on a sandwich with lettuce and mustard, shredded for chicken salad or torn into strips and served with a sauce for ‘batterless’ chicken fingers.

Creative lunch idea #2: Veg out
Sometimes it’s worth it to add a few extra calories to a lunch if it gets your child to eat their veggies. Pack a variety of veggies - bell peppers, celery, carrots or cucumbers cut into super thin sticks, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower or broccoli trimmed into itsy bitsy florets - but include a tasty dip.

• Try hummus, or heavier dips such as Herbed White Bean Spread, Red Pepper Feta Dip, Garlic and Herb Dip, or spinach and cheese (dubbed "Green Slime" in this popular Halloween recipe). You can even use straight up ranch dressing.

• If you make dips from scratch you can obviously better control the amount of fat that goes into them, but many store-bought brands also have healthy options. Just be sure to put the dip into a container with a tight lid, but not so tight your little one can’t open it.

TIP: Sweetly speedy
Many parents would love to bake their own cookies and squares rather than buy processed versions, but balk at the time it would take every week. So do it every few weeks instead, and befriend the freezer.

* Easy bars: Bake one of Canadian Living’s delicious and healthy snack bar recipes, such as Chewy Granola Bars or Carrot-Date Breakfast Bars, cut them up and then freeze them, first in a single layer on a tray, and then, when fully frozen, pack them into freezer bags or containers and defrost them as needed.

* Easier cookies: Do the same with cookies, such as Oatmeal Chocolate Chip. Or to keep more of a freshly baked feel, scoop out the cookie dough using an ice cream scoop with a release lever (it’s faster than using spoons and every cookie will be uniform) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and freeze immediately. When they’re frozen through, transfer them to freezer bags. Bake off the cookies as desired, in batches of four or eight.  

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4 creative ways to help your kid eat a healthy lunch

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