When your child begins preschool, you might 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's better to pack nutrient-dense foods for your preschooler. Since young children may be picky, sending your little one off with foods that look and taste appealing, increases the odds that she'll actually eat her entire lunch.
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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 deli ham, some will balk at eating the same item every day. Try placing the same fillings that you would put between two slices of bread in a tortilla instead -- and then wrap it up and cut it into pinwheel rounds. Another way to dress up sandwiches is to cut them into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Or, try different types of bread, such as rye, pumpernickel or pita bread. Make sandwiches healthier by using whole-grain bread, a real fruit spread in place of sugary jelly and adding lettuce and tomato to cold meat sandwiches.
Also keep in mind that there are other main courses that can take the place of a sandwich. Your preschooler might enjoy yogurt mixed with berries. Another option is to fill a thermos or insulated container with heated leftovers or soup. Or, try packing a taco salad made with ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, olives and sour cream -- and include tortilla chips on the side. Your child might enjoy cold pasta salad mixed with raw or steamed veggies as well.
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. Preschoolers also often like to eat vegetables with dip. Provide a small container of ranch or blue cheese dressing, hummus or salsa for dipping. Include baby carrots, raw green beans, slices of pepper or cucumber, or cherry tomatoes sliced in half for dipping.
Prepackaged snacks, like potato chips and cheese puffs, are often high in fat, calories and sodium. 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 them 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 adding chunks of bananas, raisins or other sweet fruit before they set. A trail mix made with dried cranberries, shredded coconut, toasted oat 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 him, not fill him up so that he can't eat the lunch and will not add any sugar or calories to the meal. If your child won't drink water, give him boxed low-fat milk or 100-percent fruit juice. Avoid packing your child fruit cocktail drinks or sports drinks, as they contain excessive sugar.