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Pack a nutritional punch in your childrens lunch
Cutting sandwiches with cookie cutters and including juice and fruit can help your kids get the nutrients they need at lunch time. - photo by Tom Reed

Add a special lunch touch

When wrapping fresh fruit: If packing, say, an apple or a peach, wrap it in a nice paper towel to serve as a cushion and a napkin
Something in writing: Notes are always good, especially for younger kids

Dietician Mary Ann Clever, Longstreet Clinic

Packing a healthy school lunch for your child might be a lot easier than you think.

Worried your child still won't eat it? All it might take is buying a cute cookie cutter and letting your kids help put it all together.

Sharon McLeod, a dietician with District 2 Public Health, said to make eating a sandwich more fun with a cookie cutter. Cut it out before your child leaves for the day, and they'll get to enjoy a specially-shaped sandwich come lunchtime.

Plus, get them to help with assembling side items.

"If you choose to do carrots and you want to do carrot sticks, plan a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and get the kids involved cleaning the carrots," she said. "Go ahead and have them chopped up and prebagged and then you only have to grab a bag of carrots and stick in their lunch box."

Look for fruits and vegetables that are in season, too, and you won't always have to rely on the trusty carrot.

Mary Ann Clever, a dietician at Longstreet Clinic, said to always keep in mind two things when packing your child's lunch - variety and color.

"That way, with the of variety food choices and lots of color, you are more prone to not miss out the variety of nutrients that are out there with our foods," Clever said. "I would say try to pack two servings of a fruit and/or vegetable, which I think is sometimes hard for parents. Some sneaky ideas would be instead of putting lettuce on a sandwich put spinach and it's a lot more nutritious."

It always helps to try different types of vegetables, too - don't get into a rut.

"Instead of always doing the carrots and celery, try other vegetables like raw zucchini, radishes, sweet pepper to try and give them variety," she said.

Some parents may think it is a waste of time adding veggies into their child's lunch because they might just throw away the healthy item. Martha Thompson, director at Magic Years of Learning, said maybe and maybe not.

"Normally they will eat the sandwich, eat their fruit and drink their milk. They might not do the vegetable but at least they are getting introduced to it every day," she said. "I have found in the past that kids that might not eat broccoli will eat broccoli because little Johnny sitting next to them is eating it."

McLeod said to use fresh vegetables as an alternative to prepackaged chips and salty snacks.

"It's kind of fun because the kids can try new things and if you need to put a little bit of ranch dressing with them, (it's) a great alternative to those chips," she said. "Just about any vegetable, carrots, celery, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, anything like that would work great."

Dairy also is an important component of a balanced lunch - but it doesn't have to always be milk.

"It could be yogurt, and with some of these flavors of yogurt it's almost like a dessert," Clever said. "Of course, cheese is always an option there, too."

Whole grains from sliced bread or other sources adds an important serving of fiber in your child's diet.

"It doesn't always have to be whole-grain bread ... wraps, pita pockets or even a bagel could be a sandwich wrapper. Then a serving of lean meat ... You could even do an ounce of turkey and a slice of cheese to serve as your protein source. String cheese is always a popular, too."

For drinks, parents should be careful when choosing juices for their child - some have hidden sugars and extra carbohydrates.

"You want 100 percent juices. And there are so many of the drinks out there that are disguised as juice containers, but if it doesn't say 100 percent juice you run the risk of getting a sugary drink," Clever said. "There's nothing wrong with water at lunch time either."

McLeod agreed that water is a perfect way to get children their needed hydration.

"An alternative to sodas or even Kool-aid, instead of doing those, do something that is 100 percent juice in the juice boxes or just do water," she said.