Camp time is here. You want your kids to be well nourished and enjoy their lunch, but kids often get bored with the food parents pack, and parents have a challenging time coming up with new lunch ideas. Kids enjoy camp lunches that have balance, variety and include surprise treats. The treats are small, but are delicious and hit the spot.
Here are five tips to help you build a balanced lunch box.
Tip 1: Include a protein. Protein will help keep your child satisfied longer by keeping blood sugars steady longer. Consider giving 2-3 ounces of protein. Examples include sliced turkey, roast chicken, egg salad, chicken salad, hardboiled egg, cheese, hummus or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. The protein can be in a small container, in a sandwich or wrap or served with crackers.
Tip 2: Provide a starch or grain. Think whole-grain bread or a half of a pita for a sandwich, or a tortilla or lavash bread for a wrap. Try cutting a wrap made from tortilla or lavash bread into smaller slices that look like pinwheels. A trick for helping a sandwich not wilt in the summer heat is to freeze your bread in an air-tight bag overnight. Make the sandwich in the morning using the frozen bread. By lunchtime, the sandwich will be a perfect temperature. If your child is not fond of sandwiches, provide a small container of rice, pasta or whole-grain crackers. The big take-home here is to move away from packing multiple processed grains such as sugary granola bars or other sweet snack bars marketed to kids, and instead give more fresh, whole, unprocessed foods.
Tip 3: Give fresh fruits and vegetables. Rotate your kid’s favorite fruits, whether whole or cut up in a container. Try cherries, apples, tangerines or grapes. These fruits hold up well in warmer weather. For a variety of vegetables, try including seaweed, a few olives, sugar snap peas, a few sweet baby tomatoes or a pickle. Small containers with a variety of foods are fun for kids to eat. If vegetables are not your child’s favorite, include a small amount of ranch dressing, guacamole or hummus for dipping.
Tip 4: Add a healthy fat. Do your kids like nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, walnuts or pecans? What about avocado or guacamole? If you have a teen who likes a salad, then a vinaigrette dressing with avocado or nuts will do the trick. Healthy fats help satisfy and provide essential nutrients.
Tip 5: Make lunch fun with a small treat a few times a week. Keep it a surprise. In a mini salad-dressing-size container, add a couple of chocolate-covered almonds or raisins, a couple of small cookies or a piece of chocolate. Denying fun foods makes your kids crave them more, so give a small amount as part of a balanced and realistic approach to packing lunch.
Bonus Tip: The best drink to give on a hot day is water. Since kids get enough sugar in summer popsicles and camp-provided treats, avoid giving sugary beverages such as punch, lemonade, fruit juice and squeeze yogurts.
These tips, when combined, make a balanced, nourishing and healthy camp lunch and one that has a touch of fun your kids will enjoy.
Shani Mara Breiter is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in working with families, kids and teens. She offers a family-centered nutrition program along with individualized sessions both virtually and in person at her Beverly Hills and Encino offices. Learn more at shanimara.com.