Here we go again! The long, hot, lazy days of summer are coming to an end, and that means back to class, routine, crazy schedules, sports, carpool, and…packing countless lunches and snacks for school. I must admit that I did NOT miss this prep work these couple of weeks that my kids were not in camp and school, so I can imagine many of you feel the same AND don’t always know what to give your kids to eat.
Read on for some of my tips and tricks, as a Registered Dietitian AND busy working Mom of two young boys.
- Keep the Kids Involved
Whether you take the kids grocery shopping with you, allow them to assist in making their own school lunch, offer choices, or include items you baked together, they will feel empowered and maybe even excited about what’s in their lunch box. By taking my 6-year-old son with me to the deli counter in Whole Foods, we learned that he really enjoys turkey pastrami. He (sometimes) likes helping me put popcorn in a Ziploc bag for lunch or picking out his snacks. The kids love baking (healthy!) cookies and muffins and telling their friends about it when they eat them at lunch. Even just asking my 4-year-old if he wants a banana or apple in his lunch makes him happy that he had a say in the matter.
- Offer a Balanced Meal
The goal of a healthy school lunch, as part of a balanced diet, is to enhance learning skills, thought processes, and school performance, while maintaining energy levels to fuel the remainder of the afternoon, which often includes after-school sports/activities. “Balanced” means including a variety of foods from each food group with different sources of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Here are just a few examples:
Protein-helps keep little tummies full and kids grow strong.
Turkey (deli, ground, fresh)
Chicken (tenders, grilled, sliced)
Fish (tuna, salmon, nova, fish sticks)
Eggs (scrambled, boiled, omelets)
Dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese)
Nuts and Seeds (nut butters, raw/roasted nuts, pumpkin/sunflower seeds)
Beans (hummus, black beans, chickpeas, edamame/soybeans)
Carbohydrates-great for energy and crunch is good for concentration.
Whole grain bread/muffin/bagel
Whole wheat, brown rice or whole grain pasta
Whole grain crackers
Potatoes or chips (made with avocado oil or olive oil are the best)
Fat-also helps keep kids more full, important for brain health
Animal protein (eggs, chicken, turkey, meat, cheese, full or low-fat dairy)
Nuts and seeds
- Keep it Simple, Small, Easy (AND a little FUN!)
Easy lunches are the simplest for Moms (or caretakers) to make, and kids feel confident eating (mostly) familiar foods. Bite-size, or cut up foods are just easier for little fingers to hold, or eat with a fork. Most kids have limited time for lunch periods, so the easier to eat the better: smaller pieces and easy-open containers are helpful! Making lunch colorful with fruits and veggies makes it more appealing. If a cute smiley face made out of raisins or even chocolate chips and M&M’s will help, then go for it!
- Include New and Non-Favorite Foods
Familiarity breeds liking: it can take up to 50+ exposures (seeing, licking, tasting, biting) to new or different foods for a child to actually accept and eat it. Definitely, include foods that you know your child to eat. You DO want to keep their bodies and brains fueled for the busy school day. But, you can also add foods that they sometimes or never eat: when they are hungry and that’s all that’s in front of them they may just (surprisingly) eat AND enjoy it!
- Leftovers for Lunch
When cooking dinner (pasta, pizza, vegetables, chicken, burgers), make extra: thermoses and other containers can keep this food warm for lunch OR kids may even enjoy some of it cold. This also saves Moms times when making lunch.
- Contain it!
Let your kids select and get excited about their lunchbox or bag. Include a note or a sticker to add a little more fun. Try new and different containers.
I found these, which are PERFECT for dressings, hummus, sauces, etc.
And I like these for fruits and vegetables so they don’t get a sandwich and other items wet:
The containers in the lunch photos are similar to these.
None of these above containers are perfect or magic. I use a combination of these and Ziploc bags depending on the day, what’s clean, available and easiest at the time. Find which works best for you and your kids!