With school well along at this point, parents tend to spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out what to pack for lunch for the little ones. This can be a challenge.
But whether your child is in kindergarten or in high school, these tips provide good reminders for helping our kids eat healthfully no matter how rushed their lives are (or their parents’ lives) or what their schedules are like. These tips will help them stay properly fueled and well-focused.
1.) Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Focus on fresh fruit, purified water, protein, and fiber while kids are in the comfort of their own home. Fuel them up with a simple smoothie that is quick to make and satisfies their nutritional needs. I like blending yogurt, banana, strawberries, milk, baby spinach and a touch of honey.
If smoothies aren’t your thing, try a snack plate with cut up cheese, berries, wholegrain crackers or bread. This wakes their bodies and brains up in a healthy way for the long day ahead.
2.) Who says leftovers are a no-no? Pancakes for lunch? If it’s good enough for breakfast, well, why not use it for lunch. Often kids don’t finish their breakfast. Instead of trashing it, wrap it up with a little fresh fruit and cut-up veggies and send it for school lunch. Not only is this easy, it’s less wasteful. I even recommended sending in leftovers of their favorite dinner. Make sure to cook enough once so you have extra to eat twice.
Soups are also an easy, healthy option that can be made ahead of time and just warmed up and packed in a thermos for school. Be creative and use what you have. It can save you money and time.
3.) Pack easy, simple foods you know your kids like and in small portions. Don’t feel bad with packing “the usual”- cheese sticks, apples, crackers and yogurt. Choose healthy versions. Kids will enjoy them, and you’ll like the ease of tossing something familiar into a lunch bag that also provides energizing nutrients. I also love packing a small, low-sugar granola bar. Setton Farms Pistachio Chewy Bites is one of our family’s favorites! They snacks are perfectly portioned and loaded with pistachios, cranberries, protein, fiber and antioxidants. Not to mention they taste amazing too.
4.) Kids have voices, too — ask them what they want. Instead of trying to be the food detective, sit down with your kids and ask them what they want for school lunch. It doesn’t have to be perfect or gourmet. The key is to make sure they eat something nutritious that they also enjoy.
A junk food list is unacceptable; however, we are fortunate these days. There are so many cookie and chip options that have upgraded ingredient lists and are even organic. Supermarkets have whole aisles designated to organic foods and snacks to make shopping easier. As long as the snack choice is paired with fresh fruit and vegetables and a small portion of protein, there is nothing wrong with a cookie or chip.
5.) Have a game plan for when they return home from school. After school is one of the best times to fuel your kids with heathy foods. They come home hungry, really hungry.
This is when a little preparation goes a long way. I recommend carving out the time to have a meal ready for them when they walk in the door, or if you are on the road, make sure to pack a healthy sandwich or soup for them to eat. I can almost guarantee your kids will eat their fruit and veggies if they are cut up and ready for them.
By giving kids a satisfying meal with protein, vegetables, and whole grains when they are hungry, it prevents unnecessary snacking and filling up on empty calories until dinner time.
Sara Siskind, a certified nutritional health counselor, is founder of Hands On Healthy — cooking classes for adults, families and teens based in New York. She has dedicated her career to educating clients on how food and lifestyle choices affect health.
(photo credit, article image: Rubbermaid Products, Flickr)