Monday, January 9, 2012

What to Pack in Lunch Box for Pre-Schoolers?

When your child begins preschool, you may have to pack her lunch each day. The foods that come in single-serving sizes at the grocery store are convenient but are often filled with salt, sugar, fat and empty calories. It is important to pack nutrient-dense foods for your preschooler to eat at school. Since young children may be picky, making the foods look and taste appealing raises the chances that she will eat what you have packed. If you are crunched for time in the morning, try to make lunch foods in one big batch during the weekend and pack them the night before.

The Main Course
The traditional main course for a lunch box is a sandwich. While most preschoolers like simple sandwiches such as cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and ham, some will balk at eating the same item every day. Try placing the same fillings that you would put in a sandwich in a tortilla, rolling it shut and cutting into pinwheel rounds. Another way to dress up sandwiches is to cut them into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Or try serving different types of bread, such as rye, pumpernickel or pita bread. Make sandwiches healthier by serving on whole grain bread, using real fruit spread in place of sugary jelly and adding lettuce and tomato to cold meat sandwiches.
There are other main courses that can take the place of a sandwich. Your preschooler may enjoy eating yogurt with berries mixed in. Another option is to heat up leftovers or soup and to place this in a thermos or other insulated container. Try packing your child a taco salad with tortilla chips, ground beef with chili seasoning, lettuce, tomatoes, olives and sour cream. Your child may also enjoy cold pasta salad with raw or steamed veggies mixed in.
Fruits and Veggies
Include a fruit or a vegetable with your child's lunch to add color, crunch and vitamins to her mid-day meal. Sprinkle sliced fruit with lemon juice to prevent browning. Besides the typical lunch box fruits such as apples, bananas and oranges, try chunks of melon or pineapple, a small container of berries or a handful of dried fruits. Remember to cut grapes in half lengthwise to prevent choking.
Many preschoolers like to eat vegetables with dip. Provide a small container of ranch or blue cheese dressing, hummus or salsa for dipping. Give your child baby carrots, raw green beans, slices of pepper or cucumber, or cherry tomatoes sliced in half.
Snack Foods
Many boxed lunches contain high-salt and high-fat snacks such as potato chips or cheese puffs. Replace these with home-popped popcorn, with a sprinkling of garlic powder for flavor. Another idea is to make homemade white or sweet potato chips in the oven. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, garlic powder or cinnamon.
In lieu of cupcakes, chocolate bars and other sugary treats, include a couple of homemade juice-sweetened cookies. Or make gelatin "jigglers" by following the directions on the package and add chunks of bananas, raisins or other sweet fruit before they set. A trail mix made with dried cranberries, shredded coconut, toasted oat circle cereal and a few chocolate chips can also satisfy a sweet tooth without adding too many empty calories. Do not add whole nuts to a trail mix for a preschooler, as they can be a choking hazard.
If your child's preschool does not provide milk, consider sending a miniature bottle of water with your child. Water will hydrate your child, not fill her up so that she can't eat the lunch and will not add any sugar or calories to the meal. If your child will not drink water, send in boxed low-fat milk or 100-percent fruit juice. Avoid packing your child fruit cocktail drinks or sports drinks, as they contain sugar that she does not need.

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