This month is National Nutrition Month, and the YMCA wants to help you understand how to incorporate nutrition into your child’s school lunch.

One of the most routine aspects of a child’s schooling is lunchtime. Given its consistency through such a long period of childhood and adolescent years, the school lunch is an ideal instrument for getting kids accustomed to healthful eating habits they can keep with them as they get older.

To ensure that your children are getting the most out of what you send with them every day, here are five tips for packing a healthy lunch.

  1. Involve your kids. Including your kids in the lunch making process not only ensures their satisfaction with what they get, but also gives them practice in healthy decision making. By being in part responsible for what they eat, the habits they adopt feel less imposed and more the product of their own preferences. Obviously, giving children too much control can defeat this method’s purpose, so focus on limiting kids to choices like which fruit they want to include or the type of meat they want in their sandwich.
  2. Find healthy alternatives for traditionally unhealthy options. On top of keeping out processed snacks and junk foods, there are plenty of ways for you to make slight switch-ups to add variety and nutrition to your child’s lunch. For example, try occasionally subbing mayo or cheese for avocado or using cooked proteins instead of store-bought deli meats. Additionally, you can make healthy foods more fun to eat with colorful skewers or cookie cutter sandwiches.
  3. Create well-rounded meals. Traditionally, a balanced diet is composed of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains. There are many means to serve each of these food groups—try mixing them up to keep your meals exciting and enjoyable! Sandwiches don’t necessarily need to be made out of two pieces of bread, as they can also make use of whole grain pita or tortilla. Incorporating leftover cooked vegetables can provide different flavors from the ones your kids are probably used to from their fresh counterparts.
  4. Be smart about drinks. One of the components of your child’s lunch that’s easier to neglect regulating is its drink. Despite what it may seem like based on their contents, juice and juice drinks provide little in terms of nutrition—especially when compared to fresh, whole fruits—and like soda usually result in a brief sugar spike and crash. Sub out the juice with milk or water—to keep the fruit flavor in the drink, infuse it with frozen fruit. Elementary school aged children are recommended to have between 6-8 cups of water a day, so make sure they drink up!
  5. Keep things varied. The biggest challenge to getting kids to eat healthy is overcoming the perceived dreariness of the food offered to them. This distaste only becomes stronger when the same meal is served in stale regularity. Assigning a different lunch for every day of the week prevents your food from becoming tiresome, and instead ensures that lunch time remains an anticipated part of your child’s day. This also allows you to introduce them to many different types of food, expanding their pallets and exposing them to more healthy options.

With these tips in mind, you can use National Nutrition month to encourage a healthier and stronger lifestyle for you and your family.

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