It’s that time of year again when parents and caregivers are packing school lunches. Here are some tips to make lunches healthier, easier to pack and more fun to eat.
Get the kids involved
Kids (and big people, too) are more likely to eat something they helped prepare.
Collect plastic containers that will fit in your child’s lunchbox
These can be purchased at the grocery store, online, or you can repurpose plastic food containers you already have in your kitchen.
Use time savers
When cooking dinner, double the recipe. You can pack this right into lunch boxes as you are cleaning up after dinner. The whole family can get involved this way (See #1). Another option is to freeze this second dinner and use it on another night as one more time saver. Some parents like to get up a few minutes earlier in the morning to pack lunches themselves before the morning rush begins.
Choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible
This means avoiding processed foods that are high in bad fats, sugar and sodium. (You know, the stuff our palates have become very fond of.) Dinner leftovers is a great place to start. Whether it is pasta, fish, beans, chicken, or even a thermos full of soup, stew or chili. This will help fill up your kids and give them the energy to get through the afternoon.
Pack a healthy variety of sandwiches
Other options are sandwiches put together with wholesome ingredients that the kids pick out themselves. Use an assortment of breads, crackers, tortillas, etc. Even leftover pancakes from breakfast make a good sandwich base. Sliced cheese, turkey, or ham can go on crackers or can be rolled into tortillas, cream cheese or nut butter can be spread on left-over pancakes. Ants on a log or fritatas made in mini muffin tins are fun options. You can even pack mini pitas with some marinara sauce and shredded cheese that the kids assemble at lunch time for a homemade cold pizza.
6. Round out the meal with fruits and vegetables
Grapes, berries, mandarin oranges or apple slices are all good for little hands. Vegetables can be sugar snap peas, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, sliced red bell peppers and peeled cucumbers cut into coins. Adding something to dip the vegetables in can be fun. I recently heard school-aged children referred to as “the Ranch generation!”
Extra treats for the lunch box might be yogurt in a cup or in a tube
You can purchase reusable tubes online and make your own “to-go” yogurt snacks. Mini muffins and homemade granola bars made on the weekends with the kids and stored in the freezer are also good for treats. Pack water bottles or even smoothies that have been in the freezer the night before. This helps keep lunches cool and kids hydrated.
Find out what your school food allergy policy is
Some schools have a nut-free table in the cafeteria. Other schools are completely nut free. Sunflower seed butter can be an acceptable substitute, but find out if it is allowed. One of our Kids First nurses diligently packed a nut-free lunch for her oldest child for two years because he told her it was the school policy. She later found out that it was not the school policy. He just wanted to be able to eat lunch with his best friend at the nut-free table!
The start of a new school year can be an exciting time for children. You can make their lunches part of that excitement.
Interested in learning more about healthy habits for kids? Read about the nutrition services we provide families in our practice.