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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 pretty good idea to involve them in planning for lunches.

Step 2. Sandwiches are a good start and not too unfamiliar. Low fat swiss cheese, tomato and lettuce to start. Likewise, there are good low fat / lower calorie cold cuts. Use whole grain breads, lower fat mayonnaise or mustard.

Slow change from to new foods can work. 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. Barbeque chicken, etc. packed into a lunch is great.

Soups are a good choice. A hearty soup or stew like the Potato & Leek, Roasted Eggplant or Beef Stew are good choices. This requires a thermos but 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 barbeque.

Dessert? Fruit. A good old fashioned apple but slow but sure addition of different things - 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 also. 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
Dr. Gourmet