With Back to School comes the great task and responsibility of packing lunches. That statement may seem dramatic, but I truly do see it as a big deal as we fuel these little bodies and brains with important fuel needed through their day. We all know how much concentration, cooperation, and control is expected in a school classroom and how on earth do we expect them to live up to these expectations if they are filling their bodies with junk? Let’s explore how to pack a healthy school lunch and one that your child will eat!
I am by no means perfect and I realize that kids have their own likes, dislikes, and stances they enjoy taking with something they can control- some days warrant those square cheese crackers or granola bar and a yogurt tube! With that said, I do have some ideas to offer that may set your child up for a healthy, satisfying meal at school and in turn make his/her classroom experience that much better.
1. Keep it Simple
Time is limited in the cafeteria. Once they find a seat, get settled, open their lunch box they must chat with their surrounding peers. So many distractions of friends, kids from other grades, and just the volume level keep them from gobbling up their lunch box contents. That’s why I keep my kids’ lunches simple: 3-4 items.
2. Balance the food groups
Think “real foods”. I’ve included examples below, so be sure to keep reading. Protein is an important focus and can be achieved a variety of ways. I include a complex carb for added energy. Next, I have a vegetable that I know they will eat. Kids do not get nearly enough vegetables in their diet and a school lunch is a great way to sneak it in. They are hungry come lunch time and don’t have us around to poke and prod for them to “just take a bite”, so they are more likely to gobble them up! I include a fruit as well for some juicy sweetness. I do not pack the ‘typical’ dessert. No one needs Little Debbie hiding out every day or the sugar cereal. I save the sweet treats for occasions at home and seldom include a small sweet treat in a lunch- raisins or dried cranberries. Honestly, I’d rather be around when I say yes to a treat!
3. Organize the lunch
The yumbox is an example of a simple way to organize their lunch. The compartments do seem a bit tight as the kids age and their appetite and needs increase, but they work well now. They are easy to wash and reuse on a daily basis and kids can see all of their food at once. This way they aren’t digging through a lunch bag of baggies looking for their items. They fit in our standard lunch boxes with room left for a spoon on the side and an ice pack.
4. Give them water
Kids generally do not drink enough water. Proper hydration helps with every part of your body- keeps digestion regular (along with those important fruits and veggies), energy levels up, headaches down, joint issues with growing bodies, and keeps hunger cues to the correct range. Many times we mistake the cue for hunger when we really are just thirsty. Skipping the sugar juice box is just one simple way to make our kids healthier. It’s easy to include a water bottle with their lunch! Just be sure it passes the leak test to prevent a soggy backpack.
So what does all that look like?
Here are some examples that I’ve personally found to be successful school lunches:
-Turkey and cheese roll-ups served with sliced red peppers and green grapes
-Half a bagel with cream cheese served with cucumbers and hummus, apple slices
-Greek yogurt sweetened with pure maple syrup, mixed in with berries and granola, baby carrots
-Sunbutter (PB or almond butter if allowed) on whole grain bread, peeled orange, and snap peas
-Cheese quesadilla with pear slices and mixed raw veggies
-Hard boiled egg, yogurt, and veggies
-Tuna salad with crackers
-Cheese cubes, chicken breast chunks, and crackers (think Lunchable)
-Dinner leftovers: serve warm in thermos
-Soups, meatballs, scrambled eggs, even healthier hot dogs can be served warm in a container. We have found Lunchbot insulated containers to work well for us, keeping the contents warm after filling and dumping with hot water before packing.