When my children were enrolled in school, one of my greatest joys as a mother was packing lunches and snacks for the school day. I felt good knowing that I was providing my children with nutritious, wholesome lunches so that they could grow, learn, play, and make the most of each school day. However, lunch-packing can sometimes feel stressful and overwhelming, especially if your child has just started school or is a picky-eater.
Here are five basic rules I’ve followed to ensure that packing a healthy lunch does not feel like a chore:
- Invest in the right lunch essentials.
Having the right lunch essentials, not only makes packing more enjoyable and convenient, it also encourages your child to eat his or her lunch! I highly recommend purchasing a leak-proof bento-style lunchbox in which you can pack multiple items. Not only does this save you time but younger children are more likely to eat small amounts of a variety of foods rather than one huge meal. Remember to pack an ice-pack with cold items such as fruits, veggies, sandwiches, and yogurt to keep them from turning soggy and warm. If your child prefers warm meals, purchase an insulated food jar to keep his/her meal warm. When packing food in a thermos, make sure to heat the food until boiling temperature to ensure that the food stays warm and safe to eat.
2. Keep in mind that each time you pack a healthy lunch, you are investing in your child’s health and well-being.
A child’s lunch should include good sources of protein, healthy carbs, healthy fats, and calcium. Eating a lunch with adequate protein in will help stabilize your child’s blood sugar levels, preventing crashes, improve his/her ability to learn and concentrate, and boost energy levels. Fortunately there are many sources of protein, even for vegetarians. Red meats, chicken, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt/Kefir, lentils, and beans are all excellent sources of protein.
Children need plenty of carbs for normal growth and development and to sustain energy. Healthy, complex carbs can be found in the form of whole grain foods, fruits, vegetables and dairy.
Healthy fats are not only essential for the proper development of your child’s brain, it will also help him/her feel fuller for longer. It is beneficial to include a healthy source of fat such as eggs, full-fat yogurt, milk that is 2% or higher, nuts (if your child’s school allows it), avocado, olives, salmon, or seeds as a part of each meal.
Calcium is needed to build strong bones and teeth, maintain a healthy heart, as well as maintain adequate nerve and muscle function. Since it is only possible to build strong bones during the childhood years, it is essential to include calcium-rich foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli or other leafy greens, edamame, chickpeas, or sesame seeds in your child’s lunch. Some kid-friendly foods such as orange juice, bread, and cereals may even have calcium added to them.
3. Aim to pack lunches the night before.
Packing the night before, leaving only what needs to be warmed up for the following morning, will save you from morning-time stress as you are hurrying to get out the door. It will also help prevent you from packing poor but convenient foods, or even buying an unhealthy lunch on the way to school. If you have multiple lunches to pack, do so in an assembly line-like fashion to make the best use of your time.
4. Include your child in the lunch-packing process.
Let your child decide what he/she would like to eat from the above mentioned groups and let them help pack their lunch as well. Your child should always be allowed to choose what goes in his or her body from the healthy options that are offered. Giving them that control also encourages them to finish their lunch at school. If you pack something your child refuses to eat at home for lunch, don’t expect him/her to eat it at school (although they very well could). Again, this is why involving your child in the lunch-packing process is beneficial. If your child refuses to take veggies or fruits to school, offer a smoothie full of fruits and veggies instead.
5. Prep for school lunches, during the weekend (or whenever you have time).
Having a fridge full of fresh, healthy options and fully prepped meals or even components of a meal at your fingertips can save you time and keep you from packing unhealthy options. Many fruits such as berries and apples can be washed, dried and stored for up to a week in airtight containers. Salads, minus the dressing can be prepped days ahead for use during the week. Eggs can be hard-boiled and stored. Healthy muffins, meatballs, burger patties, falafels, soups and chilli can all be made in large batches and frozen for use throughout the weeks (recipes are on my blog). If you are looking to save more time, plan a week’s worth of lunches in advance so that you know what you are packing every day and can get right to it.
Wishing all the students going back to school a safe, healthy, and successful year!
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