Originally posted here by Kristina Thorne, clinical dietician at Texas Children’s Hospital
School is back in session which means getting back into a routine. For some, packing a school lunch is part of that routine. When the first week of school rolls around we may have the motivation to pack creative lunches, pack lunch boxes the night before and have plenty of new meal ideas. However, as the year passes by, or on those nights where time disappears, goals of packing those creative first day lunches are long gone and we are in survival mode just trying to make sure our kids leave the door on time with food in their hand.
It is important that we don’t lose our motivation and continue to pack healthy lunches for our kids. A balanced lunch will provide the energy our children need to focus for the rest of the school day, can be a main contribution to overall nutrients and vitamins our kids need to grow and develop, and can indirectly teach our children balance, variation and healthy eating habits.
Here are some tips to packing healthy balanced lunches to pave the way for healthy futures for our children:
Tip #1: Meal prep when you have the time
Instead of planning to make lunches the night before school, try prepping foods immediately after grocery shopping as you put the foods away since you already provided time in your schedule to shop and store purchased foods.
- Ideas to get ahead: Chop and slice vegetables and fruit, portion protein and sides, make lunches for the beginning of the week on Sunday.
Tip #2: Have a rotation of ideas
Stock your house with foods your children love. Let them pick their top favorite lunches you have packed and form a family calendar around those ideas. Have a few meals for each day of the week and rotate those so your grocery list stays quick and easy!
Tip #3: Make meals look fun
- Use divided containers, or try bento boxes, to show portions and keep food separate.
- Use cookie cutters, paper flags or cupcake liners to add color and excitement to sandwiches and sides.
- Add dips and spreads to create an interactive meal.
- Have “create your own” lunches, like English muffin pizzas, by packing a whole wheat English muffin, tomato sauce and shredded cheese that your child can create when lunchtime comes around.
Tip #4: Involve your children
Let your child help pack their lunch. Encouraging their ideas and requests will eliminate school lunch waste. While packing lunches, for example, look at your child and say, “Go grab a green vegetable from the refrigerator.” When your child gets to lunch and sees their vegetable, they will have pride knowing their choice was included, making them more likely to eat it!
Suggestions for each essential component of a school lunch:
Fruits/vegetables: Every color in fruits and vegetables portrays a different vitamin and mineral they provide, make sure to provide your child a variety of colors each day.
Grains: Whole wheat bread, tortillas, English muffins, mini bagels or pita pockets. Brown rice, whole wheat or veggie pasta, quinoa, cous cous, barley, oatmeal, bran muffins, popcorn, whole wheat crackers, tortilla chips, whole grain pretzels, granola, whole wheat waffle, raisin toast
Protein: lean meat, nitrate free deli meat, hard boiled eggs, nuts, seeds, nut butter, hummus, beans, edamame, tofu
Dairy: Yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, milk and smoothie pops