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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Can you suggest healthy lunches for my middle-schooler?

A new school year is coming and with it concerns about sending healthy lunches for my middle schooler. Any suggestions would be great! (They do not have any way to heat their lunches).

Dr. Gourmet Says...

sandwich on whole wheat bread with turkey

This is always a tough question. So much depends on your child and what he or she likes to eat.

Step 1. There is good research that suggests not forcing kids to eat foods they don't like helps with their eating habits in later life. So it's a good idea to involve them in planning for lunches.

Step 2. Sandwiches are a good start and not too unfamiliar. Reduced fat cheese, tomato, and lettuce are a good start. Likewise, there are good low fat / lower calorie cold cuts. Use whole grain breads, lower fat mayonnaise or mustard, and make sure those cold cuts are nitrate- and nitrite-free.

Slow change from more familiar to new foods can work well. Change the meat to soft goat cheese or the tomato to roasted veggies. If your child doesn't like whole grain breads, begin with the "light wheat" bread and change slowly.

Cooking extra at dinner can be a help with this endeavor. Leftover barbecue chicken, etc. packed into a lunch is great.

Soups can be a good choice. A hearty soup or stew like the Potato & Leek Soup, Roasted Eggplant Soup, or Beef Stew are good choices. This requires a thermos, but it brings up the point of food handling as well.

Even with sandwiches, keeping the food cool is important, so sending your child with a cooled container that has an ice pack is important, whether it contains sandwiches or barbecue.

Dessert? Fruit. A good old fashioned apple or banana is great, but try adding different things as well, like cut up pineapple, kiwi, asian pears, and the like.

Step 3. Set the example. If you are eating healthier foods and that is what is in the cupboard, it is more likely that your children will eat them as well. I know a couple whose children snack on goat cheese, table water crackers, and roasted vegetables because this is what they were raised on (instead of stopping off at the fast food restaurant for a burger, fries, and a fried apple pie or eating a bag of chips).

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet