As we find ourselves already a few weeks into the new school year, the daunting challenge of trying to figure out what to pack for school lunches might be weakening the steely resolve of even the most seasoned of parents. If your kids are anything like mine, they are either already tired of school lunches or have completely forgotten about their initial pledge to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…every day!
Finding that perfect balance between foods your kids will eat and good nutrition is not always easy but can be crucial to helping your child successfully navigate through their day.
Here are some helpful tips for packing a youngster’s lunch along with some health ideas for lunches:
Keep it Safe
Four to five hours will pass before lunchtime, so use a small ice pack to keep perishable foods at a safe temperature. A frozen smoothie serves dual purpose of an ice pack and a tasty treat thawed to just the right temperature when it’s time to eat. Wash the lunch container with hot soapy water regularly as bacteria quickly accumulates. Many bento boxes are dishwasher safe and minimize waste and clumsiness of baggies and containers.
Keep it Convenient
They have 20 minutes to eat and you have less to pack the meal. Time saving measures can make the hectic task of getting kids out the door in the morning less stressful for everyone.
- Fruited muffins can be frozen and pulled as needed.
- Take the time to cut up your child’s veggies and fruit (drizzle with lemon juice to keep fresh) to be easier for them to chew and dip into their favorite nut butter/sunbutter, hummus, yogurt, or guacamole.
- There’s nothing wrong with leftovers like cold meatloaf sandwich, flatbread, and pasta salad.
- Prepare some hard-cooked eggs over the weekend and have them peeled and ready to go.
Keep it Healthy(ish)
Aside from being a Registered Dietitian, my primary role is full-time working mom of three kids, ages 6 and under. I share shopping and lunch-packing responsibilities with my husband, and my (soon-to-be) first grader eats school lunch most of the time. Organic and GMO-free aren’t always possibilities, so we focus on including something from each of the food groups: whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, a quality source of protein, and a dairy or dairy alternative. Occasional fruit snacks and packaged cookies are balanced out with a healthy beverage of water or milk, and plenty of physical activity.
Keep it Fun
The internet is full of ideas for creative food shapes, a task that may be most realistic and exciting on a once in a while basis. Another fun addition is a quick note with a sweet message or joke to share at the lunch table.
As with other aspects of caregiving, doing it right most of the time will keep kids thriving.