Q: Help! All summer long, I’ve managed to give my kids fresh fruit in the morning, and a nutrient packed lunch and dinner. Now that it’s back-to-school season though, it seems my kids are eating, well, a lot of crap. They usually grab a toaster strudel for breakfast, and are always taking processed foods for lunch — instant soups, fruit snacks, potato chips — uch. Just the thought of it makes me queasy. Got any easy, fast ways to nutritionize (that’s not a real word, but you know what I mean) their food intake on the bus and at school?

A: Nutritionize. I like that one. No, it’s not a real word, but maybe it should be.

The problem with kids eating healthy while at school is a simple yet fundamental one. You can’t control what you can’t see. (You can’t always control what you can see, for that matter). What I mean is this: Kids are always going to share snacks with friends, and as long as that happens, you’re not going to know what is going into their mouths for sure. Trust me, I know. I once taught in a school where there was a “no trading” rule. Well, kids didn’t exactly trade their food, but that didn’t stop them from bringing an entire box of donuts to school and simply giving them away. Kids love to share their food. I find it odd though, because they’re awfully possessive about everything else, it seems.

The only thing you can do is play on the one string you have — what you send them to school with. And if those options are appealing, it’s less likely that they’ll be foraging for food in their neighbor’s cubby. So how do you make the food you send nutritious and appealing? Here are some ideas:

Make it colorful and make it easy: On Sunday, cut up all the veggies for the week for your kids’ lunches. Then mix it up and make it colorful. Use a reusable container, and stick in three carrot sticks, three slices of cucumber, and three slices of red pepper. A whole lot more colorful and appealing than a Ziploc bag full of slimy carrot sticks, right?

Also, try sending fruits as much as possible. They’re more appealing than veggies and are also full of vitamins. Things like strawberries, oranges, avocadoes (yes, avocadoes are a fruit) all pack a nutrient-filled punch.

Kids love to dip. Send their veggies with a little container of hummus or ranch dressing and you can be sure their veggies will be eaten by the end of the day.

Alternatives to those potato chips you mentioned can simply be baked potato chips, pretzels, a granola bar or some hot-air popped popcorn.

And what about the main dish? Yogurt, turkey wraps, tuna sandwiches, mac and cheese — the possibilities are endless. The trick is making it look appealing and appetizing so that come noon, your child’s tuna sandwich isn’t squished and soggy in the bottom of his lunch bag. That’s where hard lunch boxes like the ones made by Planetbox are key. And they’re great for people like me who can’t stand it when the mashed potatoes are touching the salad. (I actually eat off my son’s compartmentalized plates when I can — shhhh, don’t tell him.)

A neat, compartmentalized, healthy lunch all wrapped up in a cool eco-friendly container? His lunch will look so good, he won’t even bother with his best friend’s yodels come recess. Well, maybe the yodels. But definitely not the cheese doodles. Good luck, and happy lunching.

— Chanie

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