Back to school we go (or have already gone)!!! What an exciting time it can be for both kids and parents, but the busy schedules can also put a damper on our healthy eating. After spending 7 years in the schools, I have developed a huge passion for advocating for healthy school lunches for our children. The lunches the schools are feeding are not healthy, and what I am seeing most of the parents pack for their children are not much better.
We eat to fuel our body…. right? Well, we should. Cheetos, fruit snacks, fruit juice, lunchables, cups of fruit in fruit syrup, and veggie chips are not fuel for our bodies. The lunch we are feeding our children is what is going to get them through the rest of the day: help them concentrate, perform their best, maybe run around at recess, stay awake and sometimes even get them through their after-school activities.
Here are some tips to help you better fuel your munchkin:
1. Balance & Plan: When packing a school lunch, make it balanced and be sure to include a a fruit, a vegetable and a protein (protein doesn’t have to be meat). Also, take time Sunday night (or when you do your grocery shopping) to decide what you will pack your munchkin each day, this will allow you to balance the intake of his/her food. After all, we need to let our munchkins live a little and learn what it means to eat balanced too.
(Check out a free version of this menu planner here)
2. Pack Fresh: Fresh fruits & vegetables are always best! If your munchkin prefers for their fruits to be cut up, rub a little lemon juice on items that might brown. Fresh veggies with hummus or balsamic dressing for dipping is a great option.
3. Water or White Milk: Water or milk is always best. In our house, the rule is: milk for breakfast, lunch & dinner and water all other times of day (I have a two year old). The older the children are, the less milk they need each day. When deciding whether to pack water or milk for lunch, also remember Tip #1 and look at what other dairy products you may have packed.
4. Allow a small treat: We are all about teaching our munchkins to eat balanced, so allow them a very small treat. Treats do not have to be candy or complete junk. How about making a healthy version of a mini muffin? Pumpkin, bananas, oatmeal, flax, cinnamon, etc.- all flavorful, healthy options for treats. You could even freeze half of a banana and dip part of it in dark chocolate. Or how about just 2 strawberries dipped in dark chocolate or blueberries dipped in yogurt and frozen? When using dark chocolate remember the rule: 70% of cocoa or greater.
(photo via YumSugar)
5. Think outside of the sandwich– Often times we think of just sandwiches for school lunches because they can’t be heated up, right? NO! Most kiddos don’t mind eating cold food. Be creative with shredded chicken or turkey- put them in a pinwheel or a wrap. What about using cucumbers as the top and the bottom and filling the inside with cheese or hummus? How about a lunch meat roll-up (just make sure you are buying organic, hormone free lunch meat)? Every kid loves pizza, how about sending some of our grilled pizzas cold?
6. Be creative: Use cookie cutters, fun toothpicks and lots of color when packing your munchkins lunch. Make it so they have something to look forward to when they open their lunchbox. How about sticking some fruit or veggies in their water to make it more flavorful? Or putting food on a kabob?
(Photo via Recipe.com)
7. Experiment at home: School lunch time is not the place to try and give your munchkin a whole new meal. We want our children to use this lunch as fuel to get through their day and to perform well at school. Pack items you know they will eat. Mixing in a new fruit with a fruit salad or combining a new veggie with already liked veggies are fine, but this isn’t the time to try a bunch of new items at once.
8. Involve your munchkins: Talk to your child about what they’d like to have for lunch and the importance of eating healthy. Ask them what they see in other lunches. If they talk about unhealthy items, brainstorm ways you could make a healthy version together. This is a great time to educate your munchkin on healthy eating.
Need some ideas for lunches? Here are a couple of my favorites:
100 Days of Real Food: The ideas are endless! Head over to her “search box” and you will find multiple school lunch roundups.
One Fit Widow: The best place to find ideas is her Instagram account. She often posts pictures of what she packed for lunch for her kids AND she has super-convenient lunch boxes for them.