gesundes pausenbrotWith area schools back in session, students are packing Austin classrooms for new academic challenges, while many moms are facing an older challenge: packing nutritious lunches that their kids will actually eat.

It’s true that it can be tough to get little learners to lap up healthy choices when their friends’ lunch boxes are crammed with artificially colored and processed sweets. Bright colors and cool shapes are often more visually appealing to youngsters, but it’s important growing kids get a good balance of protein and complex carbohydrates to keep them sharp and energized throughout the school day.

With a little planning, it is possible to put together healthy meal options that make the grade!

Wrap it up!

Consider swapping out the traditional pb&j or turkey sandwich with a whole-grain wrap. The grains offer necessary fiber content and can be filled with yummy combinations like chicken, bacon and avocado; ham, apple and a cheese slice; or spread with peanut butter and jelly and wrapped around a banana. Roll them up and slice them into pinwheels that are perfectly sized for smaller hands — with no crusts to cut off!

Color lunch yummy!

Part of what makes pre-packaged processed foods so enticing are the bright colors of the packaging, and often, the food itself. Healthy hues can be included in the lunch box through a variety of fruits and veggies like baby carrots, red bell pepper slices, cucumber wheels and red and green grapes. Add some fun and protein to those foods by including a small container of hummus, nut butter or homemade ranch dressing made with greek yogurt to dip them in.

Dinner Redux

Remember that some foods traditionally served hot are just as good — and sometimes better — cold. Quesadillas stuffed with leftover chicken and/or broccoli and cheese can be toasted in the oven the night before, cut into triangles and dipped in salsa at the cafeteria table. Baked chicken nuggets, taco meat served in baked, scoop-shaped chips or leftover whole grain pasta sprinkled with pesto and parmesan are other good choices.

Finger Food Frenzy

In lieu of a traditional sandwich-centered lunch, pack a finger food selection that more closely resembles a snack or hors d’oeuvre tray. Include veggie and fruit strips, a sliced hardboiled egg, a handful of almonds, grilled chicken strips and cheese cubes.

Happy Endings

Parents that want to include a sweet treat in the lunch should feel free to do so without guilt, but with guidelines. Go for more natural, homemade items if possible, and don’t pack too much. One or two small cookies are enough since kids are (hopefully) pretty full from their yummy lunch. Yogurt covered raisins or almonds, or dark chocolate covered cranberries are sweet and nutritious. Youngsters should always be encouraged to consume “growing food” before sweets.