As school begins again this month, many parents struggle with the age-old challenge of packing a lunch that's not only healthy and nutritious, but also a lunch their kids actually want to eat.
Many pre-packaged lunches aren't the healthiest of options. Many are packed with sugar, sodium and extra calories, and the worst offenders do not offer the nutritional fuel growing children need to function.
The Oklahoma City-County Health Department's registered dietician Jennifer Like said the keys to a perfect lunch are balance and portion size.
"A lot of times, we are so busy and we get in a hurry and put junk food in the lunch box," she said. "We always should try to include food from each of the food groups, and you can have healthier options."
Easy hacks to make your kids' lunches healthier include:
* Add fresh cut vegetables and fruit like grapes, carrot sticks, sliced cucumbers and apple slices. Let kids help with preparing all the cut veggies, put them in prepared baggies and let the kids choose their baggie of choice for lunch.
* Add protein by including a good ol' peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread, rolling deli meat up in a tortilla or add a handful of nuts.
* Add alternatives to chips like hummus and pita chips or baked zucchini chips.
* Make "smart" cookies by substituting applesauce for oil in cookie recipes.
* Opt for juice boxes or water instead of high-sugar sodas or sports drinks
"It's all about balance," said Like. "If your kid wants chips, go for a one-ounce snack bag and then add in carrots for balance. Having a bunch of prepared options and letting your children choose items for their own lunch can help them buy into eating healthier."