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How to Make School Lunches Your Kids Will Actually Eat!

The habits children establish now will last a lifetime. Homemade snacks and lunches are healthier than processed foods, and they also give you and your child the opportunity to create foods they'll take ownership in -- and eat!
08/24/2015 10:20am ET | Updated August 24, 2016
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Getting kids to eat fresh, healthy foods (especially when you're not there to supervise) can be a challenge. We're a society of busy moms and dads, and preparing whole, fresh foods for school lunches and snacks takes a bit more time -- but our kids' health is worth it. The habits children establish now will last a lifetime. Homemade snacks and lunches are healthier than processed foods, and they also give you and your child the opportunity to create foods they'll take ownership in -- and eat!

Back to School Snacks and Lunches

Some yummy, easy-to-make lunches include cut up fruits and veggies (like carrots, apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon, and grape tomatoes), from your garden or the local organic farm; hummus and other creamy dips -- like Vegenaise egg-free spread (tastes better than mayo!) mixed with organic, gluten-free ketchup to make a French-style dressing make veggies even tastier. Tuna salad, leftovers like chicken soup and pasta are favorites, too. Get an insulated stainless steel container to keep warm foods fresh and tasty. Another super option is to invest in a dehydrator. This is really useful for fruits and vegetables that are getting a little soft (and your child refuses to eat); rather than throw them out, dehydrate them for yummy snacks.

Kids' Cookbooks

Another important strategy is involving your child as much as possible in the process of choosing and creating a meal. Children tend to eat better if they are given choices. Make sure you create what your child likes to eat in a healthy way. My kids are big fans of homemade chicken nuggets, for example. A few cookbooks I like are the "Kids' Fun and Healthy Cookbook," by Nicola Graimes, "The Cookbook for Kids," by Williams-Sonoma, and "Kids in the Kitchen" by Gooseberry Patch.

Shop the Farmer's Market Together

It's also really fun to go to the market or plant and tend a garden together. Take your child to the Farmer's Market; let her see and, perhaps, feed the chickens and collect the eggs. Let your child water the garden and pick and prepare the foods you've grown. Curious Chef has a super nylon knife set that allows you to teach young children how to cut foods safely - something they'll take pride in.

Less-Healthy Choices in Moderation

While the healthiest options are your goal, the truth is your child may want some less healthy choices. If you deprive them of things they see their friends eating, they'll find other ways to get them. Moderation and communication are key. Discuss with your child that you know he would like to try something different, and that it's okay sometimes (within reason). As for fast food, that's a no-no for our family. But, the occasional bag of Goldfish or Pirate's Booty, I can tolerate.

No Nuts

Importantly, school regulations are rigid when it comes to "no nuts" policies. And, since no one wants to have a child's terrifying allergic reaction on their hands, it's no big deal to abide by no nuts. That not only means you can't send your child to school with nut products, it also means you can't send your child to school with products that were made in environments where foods could have been exposed to nuts.

Prepare School Lunches Ahead of Time

Remember to plan ahead - you'll be under a lot less stress during the busy time of getting yourself and your child ready for the day. Pre-package items for the next day -- and for the next few days, if possible. Choose healthy options, think homemade as often as possible, and involve your child in the process of choosing, planning, shopping and creating a meal. It's a little more time-consuming, but your child's health is worth it.