Kids need to eat well, and a balanced midday meal can help them stay focused for the rest of the school day. Even if your youngsters attend a school with a cafeteria, it may be best to pack their lunches for them so you can ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need from all the food groups. You probably know that your children need lots of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate initiative, which replaced the old Food Pyramid recommendations, suggested every meal should consist of half fruits and veggies, and one-quarter each of grains and proteins. This is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind when deciding what to pack in your children’s lunch bags, but you should also be thoughtful about which foods you choose from each group.
Here are a few helpful hints to keep in mind when you’re planning your kids’ lunches:
Perhaps the most classic staple of a school lunch, the sandwich is an opportunity to cover a lot of bases nutritionally. However, it’s just as easy to craft an unhealthy version. There are a few substitutions you can make to improve the nutritional value of your kids’ sandwiches. For starters, swap out white bread for whole wheat or whole grain varieties. You may also want to consider using just one slice instead of two, as one slice is the same as one serving of grains. You can either make an open-faced sandwich if you’re packing it in a Bento box or other hard container, or fold it over if you’re using baggies or foil.
You can also substitute the fillings. Spread avocado in place of condiments, as the fruit is loaded with healthy fats and vitamins that mayo lacks, and its creamy texture will make your kids forget there’s no cheese. For the meat, opt for homemade meat like chicken breast or baked ham instead of processed deli meats that are typically loaded with nitrates and sodium.
Though your kids may want greasy potato chips, these are not the best choice. But you can still give them something with a little crunch to satisfy their cravings. Consider baby carrots with hummus for dipping, as the orange veggies will give them three times as much vitamin A as they’d get from chips. You could also consider kale chips, which are seasoned and baked leafy greens chock full of vitamins. Celery sticks smeared with almond or peanut butter can be tasty too.
Save the cupcakes and candy for special occasions and pack some fruit for your youngsters to munch on instead. Pick their favorites so they’ll be sure to eat them. Mix it up and give them a new fruit every day. If you want, go for a rainbow over the course of a week: red apples on Monday, orange slices on Tuesday, pineapple on Wednesday, honeydew melon for Thursday and blueberries on Friday. Or you could create the rainbow out of all five fruits on a Bento box for an aesthetically pleasing and fun design your kids will certainly want to eat up.
These are just a few ways you can get creative with school lunches that keep the menu healthy and wholesome. When you teach your kids good habits at a young age, they’ll be more likely to maintain this routine as they grow up. In turn, this can help them keep a healthy weight and stave off illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and even cancer.