TUPELO • No parent wants to open a child’s lunchbox at the end of the day and find uneaten food.

So how do you get a kid to buy in to a home-packed lunch?

“Plan lunch with your child before you go to the grocery store,” said Cassie Tidwell, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Magnolia Regional Health Center in Corinth. “While you’re at the grocery store, encourage adding new healthy foods to the list, such as whole grain foods or new fruits or vegetables.”

Tabitha McRunnels, nutrition educator for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program at Lee County Extension, said healthy doesn’t have to be boring.

“Try sliced vegetables, like bell peppers and cucumbers, or celery, carrots or cherry tomatoes – things that are hand-held,” she said. “Be sure and include a low-fat dip or dressing.”

When choosing bread, think outside the bread box. Choose whole wheat or whole grain, but mix up sandwich bread with tortillas for wraps or roll-ups, or sandwich thins, she said.

“Remember lunch can be meat-free,” McRunnels said. “You can pack cheese and crackers, peanut butter and crackers or better still, peanut butter with apples or celery. Maybe they like hummus with pita chips. Nuts are also a good source of protein. So is tuna.”

Remember that young children don’t need the same amount of food as teenagers.

“Use cookie cutters to cut out sandwiches for smaller kids,” McRunnels said. “Pack small fruit cups or a small plastic container of vegetables.”

And when it comes to small children, remember they have small hands, Tidwell said.

“Make sure your child can open all of his or her food and snacks easily or is willing to ask an adult to help,” she said. “Let your child pick out a fun lunch container and make sure your child can open the container easily.”

Older students who are physically active in sports, band or other extra-curricular activities might need a few extra snacks packed in their lunch sacks.

“Add a protein bar or fiber bar – something to give them a boost,” McRunnels said. “Stick in a pack of peanut butter or cheese crackers or an extra piece of fruit. Leave sweet treats out, though. They’re just sugar rushes. They don’t last long.”

“For older children and teenagers who will be eating away from home at sporting events or with friends during the school year, it may be helpful for them to download an app to remind them to drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy meals and avoid mindless eating,” Tidwell said.

Involvement in meal planning and packing is key to getting children to eat homemade school lunches, McRunnels said.

“Get some plastic shoe boxes for the fridge,” she said. “Put yogurt cups in one, string cheese in one, individual packages of fruit in one. Allow kids to choose from those pre-selected items. That gives them a chance to be involved. Let them pack their own lunch by pulling something from each container. Just make sure you offer a combination of carbs, protein and fat. Most of all, remember that lunch-packing shouldn’t be boring or stressful. It should be fun.”

HUMMUS WITH BAKED

PITA CHIPS

HUMMUS

1/3 cup good-quality tahini

2 to 4 tablespoons cold water, or more if needed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

BAKED PITA CHIPS

6 (6-inch) pita breads

Olive oil cooking spray

Garlic powder (optional)

For the hummus, add tahini, cold water, olive oil, cumin (if using), salt, garlic and lemon juice to a food processor. Puree until smooth. Add chickpeas and puree for 3 to 4 minutes, pausing halfway to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the hummus is smooth. If it seems too thick, add in another tablespoon or two of water. Taste and season with additional salt, cumin, and/or lemon juice if needed. Serve immediately or transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

For the pita chips, cut each pita bread in half, then cut each half into 3 triangles. Gently pull apart each triangle to separate it into 2 pieces

Lay the triangles in a single layer on a large nonstick baking sheet. Lightly coat the triangles with cooking spray and sprinkle lightly with garlic powder, if desired. Bake at 375 degrees for about 7 minutes until the pitas begin to color. Turn them over and bake for additional 5 minutes. Store in air-tight container.

TURKEY PINWHEELS

1 (8-inch) spinach tortilla

1 tablespoon light cream cheese, mayo or ranch dressing

1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons real bacon bits

2 ounces thinly sliced turkey breast

1/2 cup fresh baby spinach

Spread a thin layer of cream cheese over tortilla. Sprinkle cheese and bacon on top, leaving a 1/2-inch border; arrange turkey and spinach over cheese and bacon. Roll up tightly, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Slice in 6 pinwheels, discarding (or snacking on) ends. (For a complete lunch, pack in a container with 6 baby carrots, 1/4 cup grapes and 5 cucumber slices.)

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