A Guide to Making School Lunches Healthier
Simple Rules to Live By:
- Keep it simple. Figure out ways to incorporate nutritious foods without having to spend to much time preparing them. You can easily provide them with a balanced, fun lunch that’s comprised of their favorite foods.
- Mini foods are awesome. I’m pretty sure that every child will agree, anything mini or dippable is more fun than its average-sized counterpart.
- Every food is a lunch food. If your little one loves waffles or turkey dinner, (and would eat that three times a day if you let them) pack it for lunch! Don’t rule out any food simply because it’s not a “lunch” food.
Definitely get your kids involved in packing their own lunches. Even from a young age, kids can help with planning what to buy for the week, choosing foods at the grocery store, and packing their own lunchboxes. Having your kids help with the process teaches them about healthy food choices and makes it more likely that they eat their lunch at school.
With kids, just like with adults, presentation of food is so important. If your child opens up their lunch box and their lunch looks appealing, they are more likely to eat it.
Try to use a lot of color when packing lunch to be sure they are getting a variety of micronutrients with veggies, fruits, meats, cheeses, and grains. Not only will your child benefit from the nutrition of the meal but they will more than likely love the different colors they find in their lunch.
The 3-section containers for younger kids (they’re perfect for preschool lunches) and kids who aren’t big eaters at school. When you pack a balance of protein, fruits/vegetables, and carbohydrates in them, the 3-section containers really do hold a good amount of food. I also like that they leave some extra room in the bigger lunchbox , so that you can pack a drink or snack for recess time.
- These Silicone Muffin Liners (which I also use for baking muffins) are great dividers when you’re packing things like hummus.
- These Stainless Steel Small Containers work well for packing yogurt and other sides.
- If you want space for packing your child’s lunch try this 5 section container by LunchBots
- You can also include an ice pack in your kids’ lunchboxes, to keep cold foods fresh like these 4 pack reusable ice packs
Building Your Box:
- Start with a protein source: deli meats, pulled roasted chicken, ground turkey, cottage cheese, greek yogurt, hard boiled egg, etc.
- Add in a side of at least 1-2 veggies.
- Give them a source of Complex Carbohydrate: whole grains, fruit, beans, legumes, sweet potato, potato, etc.
- Don’t forget to include a healthy fat to the mix: nuts, seeds, avocado, guacamole, nut butter, or shaved coconut.
Lunch Combo Ideas:
- Greek yogurt with a little granola and fresh fruit
- Tortilla pizza (Spread a small amount of tomato sauce on whole grain tortilla, top with mozzarella cheese. Bake at 425 degrees F for 4-8 minutes, until cheese is melted. Cool before slicing and placing in lunch box.)
- Carrot and bell pepper sticks with a side of hummus and a couple of hardboiled eggs.
- Carrot and bell pepper sticks, trail mix (in this mix you can put almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, raisins, and a whole grain cereal with low sugar)
- Mini protein pancakes ( I like this brand BirchBenders Paleo Pancake mix , hard boiled egg, apple slices.
- Roasted sweet potato rounds (Thinly slice sweet potato and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in single layer on a baking sheet. Roast at 425 degrees F for about 20 minutes. Cool before packing in lunch box.) You can add these along side a sandwich on whole grain bread with deli meat, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mayo or mustard.
- Almond butter and strawberry sandwich on whole wheat bread, sliced bell pepper, crackers and cheese.
Sides to Keep handy:
- nuts and seeds
- raw veggies for dipping in hummus or guac
- popcorn or whole grain chips or crackers
- roasted sweet or regular potatoes
- greek yogurt
- fresh fruit squeezable applesauce
- string cheese or cheese cubes
- pasta salad made with whole grain, chickpea, or lentil pasta
Foods by Brand to Buy:
- Squeezable Applesauce- GoGo Sqeeze Applesauces
- Single Serving Crackers: Simple Mills Gluten Free Crackers
- Fruit Bites: Barnana Banana Bites
- Beef Sticks: Vermont Mini Beef Sticks
- Fruit and Nut Bars: RX Kids Bar
- Puffs: Lesser Evil Paleo Puffs
- Nuts: Emerald Mini Mixed Nuts Packs
- Nut Butter Packs: Justins Nut Butter Packets
Don’t Break the Bank
Ways to Save Money:
Here’s how to keep your grocery bill lower:
- Think double duty. If you are buying something, try to use ALL of it. Here’s where double duty comes in. Do your kids love bagels for breakfast? Let them build their own mini pizza bagels for lunch! Are you having tacos this week? Use the leftover tortillas for spirals or wraps.
- Leftovers can be fun. Do not be afraid to throw leftovers from dinner into the lunchbox; the key here is to change it up a bit. An example would be to roast a whole chicken on Sunday and use that meat in sandwiches and wraps throughout the week. Or, you can make a homemade sauce and meatballs, and then turn it into a meatball sub for lunch.
- Pick two sides. Each week you can let your kids pick two sides. We eat lots of fruits, so I usually pick up two or three different ones and rotate throughout the week. They also pick a snack such as chocolate covered raisins, cheddar crackers, yogurts, etc. Generally one box of lunch snacks will last one to two weeks, so it makes it easy to rotate them in and out for different combos.