Baby carrots. Peaches in light syrup. A mandarin orange or two. These are my go-to fruit and veggie servings for my 8-year-old daughter’s packed lunches. I’m not proud.
I know what a nutritious meal looks like and I’m aware these choices are — if not truly poor choices — at the very least lacking creativity. So, to add some nutritional fun and variety to my little one’s lunches, I knew I had to turn to an expert; my guess that she wouldn’t suggest peaches in light syrup was dead on.
Angelea Bruce, registered dietitian at Sharp Memorial's Laurel Amtower Cancer Institute and Neuro-Oncology Center, encourages parents to model healthy eating habits for their children. She also encourages children to make food choices that make them feel good — like fruits and vegetables — and to enjoy choice and balance in their meals and snacks.
She took the time to give me her top five tips to add fruit and veggies to kids’ packed lunches so they won’t just eat them, they’ll love them!
- Add a dip
Kids love to dip their food. Small containers of peanut butter, hummus or ranch dressing are popular and can be purchased in pre-packaged, individual portions.
- Get them into shape
We’re talking about the fruits and veggies — use small cookie cutters to cut slices of cucumber, zucchini, apple or melon into fun shapes.
- Stick ’em up
Stick chunks of fruit on ice pop or lollipop sticks. Kids love anything lollipop-shaped and brightly colored (then again, who doesn’t?).
- Name those noshes
Give fruits and veggies fun names. And then write those silly names on snack bags — cherry tomato “bombs,” broccoli “dinosaur trees” and carrot “magic wands” — or come up with your own.
- Show them you kale
Feeling adventurous? Try homemade kale chips. Believe it or not, they taste like potato chips, are easy to make and kids gobble them up.
Heat the oven to 350° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. With a knife or kitchen shears, take 1 bunch of kale and carefully remove all the leaves from the thick stems; tear into bite-size pieces. Place the kale pieces in a mixing bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt (to taste). Evenly spread the dressed kale in a single layer on the parchment paper. Bake until the edges are brown, but not burnt, about 10 to 15 minutes.
With these five suggestions, I have my daughter’s fruit and veggie servings covered for a week’s worth of school lunches. And while I’m packing her lunch, I think I’ll go ahead and toss them into my own. Broccoli “dinosaur trees” dipped in ranch dressing might just be the thing I need to happily — and healthily — get through the day.
This article has been updated on February 1, 2017.