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See What a Nutritionist Feeds Her Kids This Back-to-School Season

Lunch is the most important meal of the day to keep our kids full and focused until that final bell rings. Don't make the afternoon harder on them! Pack a nutritious lunch and they'll be well on their way to a productive day.
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As the first few weeks of the school year and fall are upon us, it's important to make sure our kids are getting the fuel they need to make it through a full day in the classroom and beyond. Making an interesting, appetizing, and nutritious packed lunch for kids can be a challenge, but as a mother of three, I've come up with some fool-proof ways to make sure my kids are not only sent to school with a nutritious lunch, but that they actually eat and enjoy what's in their lunchboxes.

One key is making sure your kitchen is stocked with great products that your kids love (here are some of my favorites), so they have options when packing up lunch. I also love using Planet Box lunch kits because they are customizable and have separate compartments for each food so kids don't get overwhelmed. Here are six more tips to help your child get a nutritious lunch that is yummy, exciting, and easy to make.

  1. Pack a pallet of colors. Include colorful foods for eye appeal. A colorful meal indicates an abundance of vitamins (green jello doesn't count). Try sweet red pepper slices, bright orange steamed yams and carrots, green broccoli trees, dark lettuce leaves, yellow apples, purple grapes and on and on.

  • Variety is the spice of life. Pack a variety of foods. Adding fruits and vegetables turns a boring turkey on bread into a snazzy fiber packed turkey, avocado, sprouts, and red onion eye appealing meal. Try choosing at least one food from each category of Fruit, Vegetable, Whole Grain, and Protein. Include non-meat sources of protein in your options like beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, organic eggs and cheese. Varying your choices will make lunch more interesting.
  • Plan ahead. 7:02 a.m. Monday morning is not the best time for culinary inspiration, and often that means PB&J for the kids. The time and stress saved by planning will really make a difference. Make a weekly lunch plan, like a school lunch calendar, every Sunday. It can also be helpful to bulk-cook on Sundays. Grill up a whole package of chicken breasts, veggies, turkey burgers, whatever your family likes, so they are ready to grab-and-go every day. No morning-of prep time required!
  • Get the kids involved! Have the kids get involved in the decision process of your weekly lunch plan. Make lists of lunch choices in the food categories listed above (vegetable, fruit, whole grain protein), and have your child choose what to eat on each day. Compromise. You pick the grain, she picks the fruit. Maybe you pick three lunches per week and he picks two. Make an agreement with your child that the lunch gets tasted or eaten, and not traded or trashed. Having your child help make his lunch will teach them about good nutrition and simple cooking skills that will be valuable for a lifetime. Plus, getting kids to give their input means you'll be less likely to see a lot of food coming home uneaten. I used to always get sliced apples back home after school from my daughter's lunch, until one day she told me she likes her apples whole and ta-da! No more apples coming back to me.
  • Be creative. If your child hates apples, oranges, and bananas, try some kiwi, berries, or Asian pears. Make fruit easy to eat: pre-peel a tangerine or pack sliced pineapple and cantaloupe with toothpicks for easy eating. Save up some small yogurt size plastic containers and fill one with sweet pepper hummus and pack colorful and crunchy veggies for dipping. Include hand eaten foods for youngsters. Eating with our hands is fun. Make it a wrap! Fill a tortilla with veggies or beans, rice, leftover salad and salsa, and roll it up. Buy fun sandwich cutters to make your kid's sandwich into a heart, dinosaur or the first letter of their name. Expand your lunch options and buy an insulated lunch box or thermos to keep foods hot or cold.
  • Drinks. Try to focus on water. Kids get enough sodas and sugary drinks without adults giving it to them directly. Who needs those extra "empty" calories loaded in soda? Beverages such as dairy, soy and rice milks can be nutritious too. Try herbal iced teas and flavored waters for variety.
  • Don't totally deprive their sweet tooth. Grapes, berries or other fruits are a great option for a healthy way to end lunch with something sweet. Give that fruit some new life: Spread peanut butter between two apple slices, add raisins for fun. Freeze some grapes and watch them turn into wonderful tiny ice-pop treats. Looking for non-fruit options? Scoop some granola into a baggie and add a small handful of dark chocolate chips. And now more and more brands are starting to make all-natural, healthified versions of classic desserts like cookies and candy. I put together a guide with some great back to school products that get my stamp of approval to help you cut through the supermarket clutter.
  • Lunch is the most important meal of the day to keep our kids full and focused until that final bell rings. Don't make the afternoon harder on them! Pack a nutritious lunch and they'll be well on their way to a productive day.