It’s back to school time and that means back to packing daily school lunches again. The primary things we focus on when packing school lunches for our children is that we want them to be healthy and balanced, keep the costs reasonable, and make the process as easy as possible. We’ve compiled some tips for you to do this very thing.
According to Raising Children, healthy food for school lunches come from five healthy food groups: vegetables, fruit, grains, reduced-fat dairy, and protein. These foods have the nutrients needed that are important for a child’s growth, development, and learning. Your lunch provides you with the fuel to keep running at your top capacity. It’s what gets you through your afternoon.
Here’s a rule of thumb you can follow…
- Use a variety of fruits and veggies such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, berries, applesauce, carrots or cucumbers with dip, cherry tomatoes, green salad, and bell pepper strips. These give your child energy, vitamins, anti-oxidants, fiber and water. They also help to fight off diseases later in life such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers. This should make up half of the lunch.
- Include healthy protein sources such as rotisserie chicken, chicken salad, hard boiled eggs, string cheese, hummus and chick-peas, cottage cheese, beans, edamame, and Greek yogurt. These foods are important for your child’s growth and muscle development.
- Pack a variety of grains such as quinoa, whole grain pasta, cereal, couscous, polenta, trail mix, granola, pasta salad, and whole grain muffins. Grain foods with a low glycemic index will give your child longer lasting energy and keep them feeling fuller longer.
- Reduced-fat dairy such as milk and yogurt should be included. Compared to dairy made with whole milk, low-fat varieties provide less saturated fat, more protein, and less calories. Fat is critical for brain development in the first two years of life, but after this period of brain growth, children don’t require such a large amount of fat in their diets.
- Healthy fats may also be included, but only a small portion.
Foods that should be avoided are salty, fatty and sugary food items, low-fiber foods, processed snacks, and drinks with caffeine or a lot of sugar. It’s important to reduce the saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium.
Here are some ideas to pack in your child’s lunch, according to Strong4Life…
- Homemade Lunchables
- Chicken and guacamole
- Pasta salad with grains and veggies
- Nut butter cracker sandwiches
- Chicken salad
- Deconstructed tacos
- Ham and cheese rollup
- Leftover pasta
You also want to make sure you are not doing the same thing every day that burns you and your child out. Afterall, we want them to eat the lunch you prepared. Instead of always using bread to make a sandwich, try using wraps, lettuce leaves, tortillas, flatbreads, bagels, English muffins or pita bread. Try new fruits and vegetables too. Create a rainbow of colors!
Here are some tips for packing a healthy lunch:
- Plan ahead of time.
- Use leftovers from a healthy dinner.
- Don’t pack foods your child doesn’t like.
- Pack the lunch early.
- Pack multiple lunches for a couple of days at a time instead of one each day.
- Consider packing water or homemade fruit-infused water instead of sugary drinks or juices.
- Let the kids help you make the lunches.
- Pack a frozen milk, yogurt or water to keep the lunch box cool.
- Use a freezable lunch bag to keep food cool.
Statistics show that kids who eat a healthy lunch achieve better grades, learn healthy eating habits, avoid the obesity battle and perform better in sports. If you need ideas, search the Internet for healthy school lunches or look on Pinterest. I was surprised to see how many easy to make and healthy choices there are out there.
Good luck with the school year and pack the cool!