The Healthy Lunchbox: Back to School Nutrition Tips
Allison Marshall, MS RD CDN CDE
With the warm summer days behind us, it’s time to think about nutritious, fun, and delicious lunches to pack for your kids. Sound like an overwhelming task? Not anymore! Here are some quick and easy tips and simple recipes to help you give your kids the nutrition they need to boost their energy and brain power.
Tip #1: Ask the Experts: Your Kids!
Children should have input in what they want, or are willing, to consume. When your kids choose and help prepare the food they want to bring to school, they are more likely to eat it than ignore it. Encourage them to choose healthy options that they actually enjoy eating.
Tip #2: Balance Your Brown Bag
A healthy lunch includes complex carbohydrates, such as 100% whole wheat bread or a whole-grain wrap, a heart-healthy source of protein, such as peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, or fresh turkey slices, at least one serving of fruits or vegetables, and a good source of calcium, such as low-fat milk or string cheese.
Tip #3: Leftovers for Lunch
Including leftovers from last night’s dinner can save time and money. Soups and pasta travel well in insulated thermoses (just reheat and pack in the morning), and lean meat or poultry can be great sandwich fillings. Try to pack your kids lunches while preparing dinner to make your morning routine a little less hectic. While you’re at it, pack one for yourself too!
Tip #4: Make Lunchtime FUN!
Use cookie cutters to turn sandwiches into hearts and dinos, make fruit kabobs on popsicle sticks, and include squiggle straws. You may also want to invest in a lunchbox and thermos with your child’s favorite cartoon character.
Tip #5: Treat or Not to Treat?
Including a small treat with lunch can help your child feel less deprived when surrounded by lunchboxes overflowing with chips and candy (yes, this is unfortunately the norm in many cafeterias!) Try to include lower sugar options, such as kid-size chocolate chip granola bars (between 80-100 calories/bar) or individual servings of pudding or Jello. You can also sneak in some fruit by including bananas or strawberries with chocolate Nutella dip.
Still stuck? Try these easy, kid-friendly lunchbox ideas:
Spread peanut butter or allergy-friendly soy butter and sliced bananas or apples on whole wheat bread. Serve with mini carrots, low-fat or skim milk, and 3 Hershey kisses.
Make finger-food roll-ups with fresh turkey and reduced fat cheese slices, and add some fresh red pepper slices in the middle for crunch. Serve with a small handful of whole-wheat crackers and low-fat pudding.
Scoop tuna salad made with light mayo and celery into a whole-wheat pita. Serve with fresh apple slices and reduced-sugar, low-fat chocolate milk.
Make a pot of hearty chicken, vegetable, and brown rice or whole-wheat noodle soup for a warm lunch on a cold day. Include a fresh fruit kabob with Nutella chocolate dip.
Pack your child’s favorite raw vegetables and whole-wheat pita chips with hummus on the side for dipping. Serve with a yogurt parfait for dessert (layer plain or vanilla yogurt with low-fat granola and berries).
Layer low-fat cream cheese and fresh strawberry slices on a whole-wheat mini bagel. Serve with cucumber slices dipped in low-fat ranch dressing, a string cheese stick, and small square of dark chocolate for dessert.
Fill a whole-wheat tortilla with grilled chicken slices, black or pinto beans, salsa and reduced fat cheddar cheese. Serve with fresh grapes and a frozen yogurt tube.
Make a protein-rich smoothie by blending plain Greek-style yogurt, banana slices, fresh strawberries, and ice and send to school in an insulated thermos. Include a bag of air-popped popcorn sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and fresh pepper slices for some crunch.
Pack 2 hard-boiled eggs, apple slices with peanut butter, and a whole-wheat roll with a small oatmeal raisin cookie for dessert.