If your preschooler's lunch box keeps coming home virtually intact, it might be time to try some new ideas. Give the tired, old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a rest by making some fresh, healthy meals packed with colors, textures and shapes designed to appeal to preschool taste buds. As an added bonus for time-pressed parents, these healthy preschool lunch ideas don't take much longer to prepare than the traditional sandwich and chips.
Think Inside the Box
Don't be afraid to stay inside the box --- a Japanese-style bento box, that is. These plastic, reusable divided containers can provide preschoolers with the variety they seek and parents with the convenience they need. Fill the containers with small portions of your preschooler's favorite foods, such as hard-boiled eggs, dry cereal, cheese cubes, small sandwiches or cut-up fruit. You can make your own bento-style box by placing small, lid-topped containers inside a traditional lunchbox. Buy pre-chopped vegetables and pair them with a pre-packaged cup of creamy dressing or dip to make lunch preparation even easier.
Go Beyond Basic Sandwich Bread
A fresh shape can add new life to the same old fixings. Instead of slapping the same old tuna salad or lunch meat between two slices of bread, try them on a whole-wheat tortilla for an easy wrap sandwich. Add kid-friendly flavor by using a ranch-style dressing on the sandwich or wrap. String a preschooler's favorite sandwich fixings, such as pepperoni slices, cheese cubes, mini-meatballs, pickles, olives or tomatoes, onto a plastic straw to make mini-kebabs. Replace the bread in your preschooler's peanut butter sandwich with waffles or pancakes for a protein-packed, kid-appealing lunch option. Other bread options include hamburger or hot dog buns, English muffins or bagels.
Kid-Friendly Fruits and Vegetables
Dips can make fruits and vegetables more appetizing to many preschoolers. Include baby carrots, broccoli or celery along with their favorite dip or creamy dressing. Kids can dip fruit or animal crackers or graham crackers into peanut butter or vanilla yogurt. If you include bananas or apples, sprinkle them with lemon juice to avoid the dreaded brown fruit effect. Pack foods that come naturally in kid-appealing shapes, such as broccoli "mini-trees," cauliflower "clouds," hard-boiled egg "canoes," avocado "boats," carrot "swords" or bell pepper "rings."
Include even more nutrition in your child's lunch box by adding a carton of plain milk or a homemade smoothie. Once a week, whip up a batch of smoothies by blending your child's favorite fruits along with milk and yogurt. Pour the mixture into small lidded cups, and store them in the freezer. Pop the frozen drink along with a straw into your child's lunch in the morning. It can help keep your child's lunch cold throughout the day, and it should defrost enough to be drinkable by lunchtime.
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