Moms and dads across the county are packing lunches every day as their children head off to school. Are you packing healthy choices?
Children need to be well fed so they are ready to learn. Have you ever tried to think straight while your tummy is rumbling? Our bodies will operate optimally if they are properly fueled, and children will have an easier time staying focused in the classroom when they eat a good lunch. Eating three balanced meals a day also helps support the immune system, which helps children stay well.
It is easier than you think to pack a balanced lunch. It is a good idea to do some planning ahead and it is helpful to be organized. Be sure to pick up
fruits, meats, fresh breads and snack items on the weekend so you have
the supply for the week. Think about baking a dozen quick banana
muffins on the weekend, then freezing them for lunchboxes. Keep your
pantry organized and keep essentials at your fingertips. For instance,
I keep my peanut butter in the cupboard with dishes and glassware
because it is above the bread drawer. This saves me steps and time in
Lunchboxes should ideally include at least three food groups, and you may be able to sneak all five in! Choose lean meats, complex carbohydrates and a fruit or vegetable. Encourage your child to drink low fat white or flavored milk at school every day. Children and teens need three to four servings of milk or dairy a day to get the calcium they need. If your child does not like or tolerate milk, be sure you are providing alternate sources of calcium for strong and healthy bone growth.
Here are three basic tips to a healthy lunchbox: (1) Include a variety of wholesome foods; (2) allow your child to help make lunchbox choices; and (3) include an element of fun or surprise.
Be sure to use a freezer pack for any perishable items such as meats, cheese, eggs, yogurt or milk. Include treat items such as pretzels, crackers, a cookie, cereal bar or a small bag of chips. Treats are okay once in a while as long as the rest of the lunch is balanced first. One Hershey Kiss is a great portion-controlled way to say: “I love you”. While a homemade cookie usually contains more wholesome ingredients than a store-bought one, it is okay to offer processed cookies or snacks occasionally. Remind your children that they should eat whole foods first from the food groups (protein, grains, fruits and vegetables) before they dig into the “treat” item. Treats do not have to be food either; a little love note or sticker for younger children is a nice surprise.
- A traditional sandwich is always a hit. Choose whole grain breads or buns. Ask your child what he or she would like each week. It is okay if they want peanut butter on whole wheat bread every day, but encourage some variety. Try lean baked ham, turkey, or cheese sandwiches. Include extras like sliced cheese, sliced tomatoes, sprouts, or green bell peppers.
- Try a wrap. Use whole-wheat tortillas to make quick wrap sandwiches. Spread a tortilla with some hummus then add a slice of baked ham and shredded lettuce. Wrap it up and go (Secret: don’t tell your child it’s hummus, just call it a “new sandwich topping”!)
- Hard-boiled eggs are great protein sources and easy to eat. They can be shelled ahead to save the child time and mess, or sliced onto bread for a sandwich.
- Cube leftover meats or cheeses for a “finger food” lunch. Include whole-wheat crackers with them.
- Try slicing a banana muffin in half and spreading it with peanut butter for a “muffin sandwich”
- Include a fruit or vegetable:
- Put fruit salad into a small container and also include a 4-ounce cup of yogurt. Tell your child they can use the yogurt as a fruit dip.
- Use a freezer pack to keep fruits cold and more appetizing.
- Include a container of Ranch dressing for the baby carrots. It’s better to eat the carrots with Ranch than to not eat any carrots at all.
- Pack a trail mix of raisins, dried cranberries, and peanuts. Add a few chocolate candies for fun.
- Smaller children often enjoy smaller, easy-to-eat fruits. Grapes, Clementine oranges or small bananas are easy.
Children form their eating habits at a young age. Balancing good nutrition with the occasional treat is an important life-long skill. Start them off right by setting a good example and providing a healthy lunch for your children this school year.
© Rosanne Rust 2008