Packing Lunch 101: On The Side

When it comes to packing lunch, think of sides as a way to get in a few extra servings of fruits, veggies, and/or whole grains. If you've put some effort into packing one of our suggested entrees and included one of our recommended snack options, you should have your protein and fat bases covered. Now it's time to fill in those nutritional gaps with some super simple sides.

BTW, this week we're focusing on sides that you can make at home but next week we'll be covering pre-packaged snack options- make sure you subscribe! You won't want to miss my grab-and-go food picks!

If you'll recall from our first post in this series, the recommended servings of fruits/veggies/grains for kids are:

  • 2-4 servings of fruit
  • 3-5 servings of veggies
  • 6-11 servings of whole grains

While the "cheat sheet" infographic shows a side of fruit/veggie and a side of whole grains, the three really could be interchangable (so if you do a fruit and a veggie or two veggie sides one day, don't stress). The point is lots of kids don't get enough of these three so you really can't overdo it here!

Fruit Sides

Younger kids are more likely to eat fruit that is already sliced/peeled/washed, especially if they receive little supervision at lunch time. Fruit cups are an option, but watch for added sugars hiding in the syrups they are packed in.

  • Applesauce
  • Sliced apples, pears (dip in lemon juice to keep from browning)
  • Banana
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit (no oil), consider including nuts/seeds
  • Grapes (try them frozen-yum!)
  • Berries
  • Pineapple chunks
  • Peach slices
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi
  • Melon
  • Fruit smoothie (no added sugars)

Veggie Sides

If your child isn't keen on certain veggies, the lunchroom isn't the best place to try them out. If there are a few they enjoy, you may also want to send along a little dip (like hummus) to encourage them to eat what you've packed. And yes, I know all of these don't necessary qualify as "veggies" in scientific terms :)

  • Cucumber slices
  • Baby carrot sticks (raw or cooked)
  • Broccoli/cauliflower (raw or cooked)
  • Olives
  • Bell pepper slices
  • Celery (or Ants on a Log)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cooked sweet potato chunks
  • Edamame (or other beans)
  • Rice paper spring rolls (avoid crunchy, fried ones)
  • Pickles
  • Tomato soup

Whole Grain Sides

How do you know if something is a whole grain? Look at the grams of fiber on the label. If it's less than 1 or 2 grams per serving, that's a red flag. Just because it says "wheat" or "multi-grain" does NOT mean it's whole grain! It should say 100% whole grain, not "made with whole grain." And if it says "enriched" anywhere in the ingredients listing, run screaming in the opposite direction!

  • Whole grain crackers
  • Whole grain or spelt pretzels
  • Whole grain cereal (low-sugar)
  • Granola or granola bar (low-sugar)
  • Popcorn (no butter)
  • Brown rice or brown rice cakes
  • Whole wheat pasta or pasta salad
  • Whole grain toast or bagel
  • Whole grain pita bread or tortilla

Try it Out: Little Iron Chef

Sides are tons of fun when they are combined! Have your child select two sides from each category, then ask how they think they might combine them. Would they like pasta with olives? Toast with bananas? Whole grain crackers in tomato soup? This will also help you discover what add-ons (such as jelly or peanut butter on the toast with bananas) to help make their creations come to life!

Do you have a question about a side option you want to include in your child's lunch (or curious how to get them to eat it)? Ask here!