This is one of my dear friends' first year as an elementary school teacher. She's also the mother of two boys. Not only does she have to prepare a healthy school lunch and snacks for herself, she also must pack lunches and snacks that her kids will love. I'm sure that this is a common dilemma for working parents with school-aged children.
Proper nutrition is a key ingredient for school success because it fuels brain cells and gives your child the energy and nutrients needed for optimal learning. Packing your child's lunch and preparing healthy snacks lets you know exactly what they're eating.
The biggest struggle that most parents face is getting their children to eat more vegetables. A 2013 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that adding herbs or spices to a reduced-fat dip increased a child's willingness to eat veggies. The portion-controlled 3 1/2 tablespoon dips served to the kids had 50 calories, 4 grams of fat and 90 milligrams of sodium.
Preschool children ages 3 to 5 years told researchers from the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Penn State University that they liked veggies more when paired with a favorite flavored dip compared with eating a veggie without a dip or with a plain dip. Thirty-one percent of kids liked a veggie alone, while 64% liked a veggie when it was served with their favorite dip. In addition, just 6% of kids refused the vegetable when served with a flavored dip, compared with 18% who refused the veggie without any dip.
During a second experiment, researchers found that kids ate significantly more of a previously rejected or disliked vegetable when it was offered with a favorite reduced-fat herb dip than when it was offered alone.
Once you find a dip recipe that your child enjoys, you can use it as a sandwich dressing too. Dips can be prepared from two days up to a week in advance. Package the dip and a few colorful and crunchy vegetables like zucchini, squash, cucumbers, cauliflower, red bell pepper, broccoli, carrots and celery in a reusable container with compartments and an air-tight lid. This will allow you to prepare everything for school lunches ahead of time and have a "grab and go" snack when needed.
Try these simple recipes for my athlete-friendly Protein-Packed Veggie Dip and my Herb and Spice Ranch Dip. You're guaranteed to increase the quantity of vegetables your family eats each week by serving these dips!
PROTEIN-PACKED VEGGIE DIP
This is the perfect dip for adults and children involved in sports and other athletic activities. Cottage cheese is packed with casein, a slowly absorbed protein that helps you feel fuller for longer periods of time, promotes muscle gain, improves bone health, provides antioxidant protection and helps prevent muscle breakdown. Cottage cheese has relatively few calories and contains many nutrients like B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus and selenium. It also helps to reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance related to diabetes and heart disease.
1 (16-ounce) container low-fat cottage cheese
2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
In a small bowl, combine cottage cheese, mayonnaise, parsley, onion, salt and pepper. Stir well, chill, and serve with cut up raw vegetables. Makes 2 1/2 cups.
HERB AND SPICE RANCH DIP
You can easily double or triple this recipe so you'll always have some available to use as a dip, salad dressing or as a sandwich spread. Store it in an air-tight sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
3/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
3/4 cup low-fat sour cream
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried chives
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion or onion powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or white vinegar, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Stir well and serve with cut up raw vegetables. Makes 24 (1 tablespoon) servings, about 1 1/2 cups.