While school is in full swing, parents may not be. Making lunch for the kiddos is a daily task or chore, depending on how you look at it. 

We’ve all seen those insta-fast meals and super creative Pinterest parents whipping up bites that their kids will actually eat.

How do they do it?

We asked mom of two and LifeCycle Nutrition’s registered dietitian-nutritionist Maria-Paula Carrillo for help on jazzing up school lunches:

1. Keep it simple!

“I’m a big fan of the MyPlate,” said Carrillo.

MyPlate is the “new-age” food pyramid. It separates dairy, grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables.

“It allows us to see that half of the meal should be fruits and vegetables, as well as include lean protein, low fat dairy and whole grains,” explained Carrillo, as a way to determine portion sizes.

2. Play with your Food

Variety, colors, and how it’s served!

“If this week you bought oranges and apples and maybe cucumbers and carrots, then the next week maybe you buy something else,” suggested Carrillo.

You can transform food into boats, dips kabobs, or ants on a log. And, don’t be afraid to make homemade Lunchables, parfaits or trail mix.

“I always encourage parents to not allow their kids to become picky,” said Carrillo.

3. Get your kids involved!

Choose foods they already love and mix in some of their not-so-favorites.

“Make a list of the fruits they like, the vegetables they like, the proteins that they will eat, what things you have available,” said Carrillo. “You will see that children little by little will start accepting new foods. And they might try them. It takes up to 20 times for a child to see a new food and even taste it for them to start accepting it.”

If you’re having trouble with variety, here’s a cheat sheet:

Veggies: Raw / cooked / steamed / sautéed

Salad: Pair with sauce, dip, or dressing

Fruits: Raw / frozen / dried / fruit cups packed in water

Grains: Tortillas / pretzels / mini bagel sandwiches / whole grain popcorn

Proteins: Nuts / boiled eggs / hummus / sunflower seed butter (for kids with Peanut allergies)

Dairy: Cottage cheese / cream cheese / string cheese / yogurt / milk

When it comes to drinks, stay away from juices or fruit punch. It’s just extra sugar added to the meal. Try infusing water with fruit, or let your child squeeze some citrus into it in order to keep them hydrated.

For more on MyPlate, go here.

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