Healthy School Lunch Tips for the Little Ones
School’s officially back in and well underway! Raise your hand if you are a parent with kids in school, who struggles with making lunches? It can be a daunting task: not only trying to find foods those little ones will actually eat, but items that will fit within school guidelines (i.e. nut-free, litter-less, etc.). As a parent, you also want to ensure you’re sending your kiddos out the door with a lunch that is jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to sustain them for their long school day.
Healthy school lunches can be a challenge; however, it is achievable! Below are some go-to ideas when it comes to packing those brown bags up.
Focus on the Four Food Groups
When packing your kiddos lunch, balance is key. Before anything else, make sure you have covered your four basic food groups (dairy, fruits and veggies, proteins, and whole grains); unless your child suffers from a specific food allergy that does not allow you to do so. There are many different options you can choose from when it comes to all four food groups, here are some examples:
- Fruit and Veggies: you can go fresh, frozen, canned, pureed (e.g. applesauce), or baked (think apple chips or kale chips … yum!). The opportunities are endless!
- Protein: Deli meats and beans, hard-boiled eggs (if there are no restrictions at your school), or even grilled/baked chicken are some strong options.
- Dairy: There are plenty of yogurt and cheese food items to reach for, ones that can please even the pickiest of eaters.
- Whole grains: From sandwich bread, to pitas, tortillas, or even pastas; whole grains, at times, can be the sustainable portion of your child’s lunchbox.
Limit Processed Snacks
Yes, it is easy and convenient to grab boxed snacks at the grocery store and simply throw them in your kids lunch; however, these food items tend to be high in sugar, saturated fats, sodium, and won’t help to keep your kids’ energy up throughout the day because they also lack key nutrients children require. Not to mention, they are also far more expensive then if you made something at home. Replace processed fruit candy snacks with some homemade fruit leather; ditch store-bought cookie snacks with no bake energy bites; and add a little veggie and fruit flare to your children’s lunch with ants on a log.
For those parents who have nut-restriction school guidelines when packing lunches, some snack recipes that require peanut butter can be replaced with alternative spread substitutes, including cream cheese, sunflower seed butter, and others. Review the recipes (and substitute options), before making.
Pack a variety
Individual compartments within your child’s lunch box are all the rage these days, and that is because they pack plenty of healthy options for your child to choose; with all the four food groups easily covered. Plus, many kids often find it easier to eat smaller portions, versus larger meals that can seem intimidating. With a time-restriction around their nutrition break, you want your child to be able to easily eat up the healthy food you have packed them, and these compartment lunch boxes provide quick assess to food, presented in a fun and colorful way.
The company Bentology is an expert at the ‘kids-compartment-lunchbox thing,’ They have tons of plastic sets available to suit any child’s school lunch style. They are also super easy for parents to pack up lunches, making it a win-win situation!
Cut up some whole-wheat pita bread, with a side of hummus and carrots to dip, cheese cubes, not forgetting strawberries with yogurt, and lunch is done for the day!
Have Some Fun!
Get your kids involved in packing their lunch, after all, it’s is their lunch. It’s important to make it a fun experience and not a chore. Use cookie cutters to make shapes out of fruit, cheese, bread, pita, or deli meats.
You can even create a theme day for each day of the week, for example, Mondays could be ‘fish-themed’ so, all you have to do is make sandwiches and fruit look fish-shaped (to the best of your ability) and then served the meal with goldfish crackers on the side. Another fun theme is ‘hearts,’ same concept as the other theme but the food is heart-shaped! Or how about ‘pizzeria theme,’ where their main lunch is a pizza, side salad, apple wedges, and caramel sauce, with a small piece of dark chocolate for dessert.
Water is Key
Fruit juice and juice boxes tend to have a ton of sugar in them, so it’s best to avoid sending your kiddos off with juice everyday. It’s recommended that school-aged kids drink six to eight cups of water a day; more water intake for those hot or physically-intense days.
While some kids may not like the idea of water in their lunch, make it fun by having them pick out their own, re-useable water bottle with their favorite character donning its sides. Encourage your kiddos to drink the entire bottle, and refill it at least once within the day, and if they find water bland, add some frozen fruit to it while packing their lunch to keep the water cold, with a little bit of sweetness.
Think Outside the Box
Today’s school lunches don’t have to look like the school lunches your mother made! Think outside the box (while staying within the idea of healthy foods!). I mean, who says waffles are only for breakfast? Whole grain waffles can easily be cut up into fours, served with raspberries and blackberries side, a blueberry muffin, and some sliced bell peppers in one compartment.
If your kid is more of a ‘snacker,’ versus a sandwich or bagel type, then some crackers, cheese slices, grapes, cucumbers, and popcorn just may be their thing. When you think outside of the typical lunch box, the options become even greater.
Sometimes when the burden of packing your child’s lunch solely lands on your shoulders, day in and day out, it can get fatiguing. Not only is the job at hand frustrating at times, but you can feel like you’ve done the same thing over and over again.
Again, invite your child to help pack his or her lunch each day. Ensure to give your child plenty of healthy options to choose from and be there to guide them as they make decisions. This will not only provide you valuable insight on what your child wants for their lunch, but also offer an indication of the types of healthy snacks they want to – and will – eat while at school.
Getting your child involved also gives them the power to make good and healthy lunch choices; ones that will carry them into adulthood.