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Most kids, at one point in their lives or another start being pickier with what they will eat. Throw in the fact that they are no longer sitting at your kitchen table but instead are at school seeing everyone else’s lunch options and you may just find you have a revolt on your hands. What is a health-conscious caregiver to do? Here are some great vegetable and protein-containing meal ideas, which work for home or school and for most meals of the day.
(Why is it so important to have veggies and protein included in your child’s diet? Read our article: How to improve your child’s behavior with blood sugar control.)
Storage of lunch foods: For safety, if your child is taking food to school it is very important that they store their meal in the fridge; unfortunately I know of no child’s lunchbox that can keep food cold enough to prevent spoilage. It is possible to freeze things like sandwiches the night before and put in their lunchbox with an ice pack. The sandwich will be kept cold and will have thawed by lunchtime. This may change the consistency of the food, however.
For hot foods that are stored in thermoses you will want to heat the foods to a much higher temperature than you would for serving at a meal and then place the piping hot food into a stainless steel or BPA free thermos that has been pre-warmed. Read here for more information: http://www.momables.com/how-long-is-it-safe-to-keep-food-hot-in-a-thermos/
Usually it is pretty easy to get kids to eat grains, fats and fruits. Protein and vegetables can be more challenging, so I’ve given you a large amount of options:
-Rotisserie chicken (pre-bought or homemade)
-Turkey roll ups or sandwiches
-Chicken nuggets (homemade or organic such as Earth’s Best brand)
-Meatballs with ground veggies in them
-Baked fish sticks
-Chicken or other meat pot pies (homemade)
-Meat or fish jerky (homemade or with good quality ingredients)
-Black Bean Brownies (this recipe has gelatin, making it non-vegetarian, although there are other versions that don’t use gelatin) http://www.archerfriendly.com/2013/10/classic-almost-vegan-black-bean-brownies
-Cheese (cubes, slices, cheese sticks, string cheese)
-Yogurt (if you are diary free coconut yogurt may be a good (if expensive) alternative although it is much, much lower in protein)
Could be vegan options:
-Beans (soups, stews, mashed, tacos or burritos, as a dip)
-Chickpeas (roasted: http://www.thekitchn.com/15-more-ways-to-flavor-roasted-106112)
-Lentils with rice or other grain or as a soup
-Leftovers from last night’s dinner (if it’s something you know they love)
-Nut or seed butters as sandwich spreads or dips (obviously if your child’s school is nut-free this is not an option. Many schools allow sunflower seed butter as an alternative, however.)
-Hummus as a dip or sandwich component (kids love dips)
-‘Ants on a log’: celery with nut or seed butter with raisins on top
-Protein power balls: 1 cup oats, 1cup nut or sunflower seed butter, ½ cup honey (or other sweetener if you don’t eat honey), ½ cup ground flax seeds, optional ingredients: 1 scoop protein powder, ¼ cup chocolate chips or raisins: mix together, chill mix for one hour, then shape into balls or bars. This recipe comes from Pinterest.
Vegetables: if the adults in the household eat and love vegetables the kids are more likely to also eat and love vegetables.
-Kids love dips (as stated above): if you can find the right dip they will be much more likely to eat cut up veggies.
–Dip ideas: bean dips, lentil dips, hummus, seed or nut butter, balsamic vinaigrette: http://followyourheart.com/products/original-balsamic-vinaigrette-2/, yogurt dips, healthy ranch dip: http://www.diynatural.com/homemade-ranch-dressing/, Goddess Dressing (we like Annie’s brand at our house)
-Kids often prefer cooked veggies, so consider steaming or roasting the vegetables you send with them for lunch. Roast broccoli and roast cauliflower as especially delicious and beloved in our house.
-You may be able to add ground or shredded vegetables to things like hamburgers or meatloaf. Some kids are really sensitive to the flavors of vegetables and might not appreciate your sneaky ways, of course.
-Use grassfed butter or olive oil when preparing your vegetables, and don’t be afraid of a little salt: these additions can change the taste of vegetables into something much more palatable.
-Soups, stews, chowders and chili are all great ways to get vegetables into kids: cut the vegetables up into chunks and add liberally. Good vegetables are the ones that your kids like the best (or hate the least). Consider: pumpkin, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, carrots, the inside of the stem of broccoli (this is our favorite vegetable at our house), green beans, peas.
-Some kids do better with vegetables they’ve picked out at the store or farmers market themselves.
-Some kids are really excited by vegetables that they grow themselves.
-Often vegetables that are in season and grown nearby are more flavorful/palatable. Look for local organic produce at your farmers market or neighborhood grocery.
-Using large lettuce leaves or steamed collard greens as wraps for grain or meat based fillings can also help increase veggie intake.
-If your kids won’t eat vegetables no matter how you prepare them you might consider instituting a three-bite rule.
-Also to keep in mind: fruit has a lot of the same nutrients as vegetables (just with a higher sugar content most of the time). I don’t suggest fruit juices as they are pretty much entirely sugar once the fiber has been removed.