How to pack healthy lunches your kids will actually eat

WASHINGTON — Several weeks into the school year and parents may once again be wondering if their kids are really eating the lunch packed for them each day.

Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog, says it’s no easier today to solve this mystery than it was decades ago when today’s parents were kids.

Squires said even researchers who want this information have a difficult time getting it.

“Food records even among adults are notoriously inaccurate,” she said.

Researchers have to do firsthand observations in school cafeterias because they can’t depend on young children to give accurate information about what they’ve really eaten.

“They essentially measure food before its served to kids and then they measure what’s left to see what they really ate … but it’s not an exact science,” Squires said.

She suggested for the rest of us, in order to accurately track what we eat, we need to write down what we’re eating when we eat it.

We’ve certainly heard a lot about improving the food served to students at schools. But research is showing that school lunches are generally more nutritious than lunches packed at home. Studies suggest that home-packed lunches fall short of key nutrients compared with food in the school lunch program. Also, home-packed meals tend to be heavier on snacks and treats than what is served at school. So, that means it’s time for mom and dad to step up their game.

Squires says the secret to improving the likelihood of your child eating the lunch you’re making while also teaching them about the importance of a nutritious lunch is to get your child involved in the process. Research shows that the more kids learn about food, the more they are apt to try it.

“Give them choices for their lunch … two healthy options. For example, do you want the hummus and carrots or the black bean dip and carrots? Do you want grapes, apple slices or maybe a banana? The idea is to keep them in the lane they need to be in so that they don’t make really bad choices,” Squires said.

If kids want snack foods, Squires said give them a choice between Goldfish or crackers — and make sure that both are whole grain options.

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