With the excitement of the first day of school slowly fading and looking ahead to a WHOLE school year of packing lunches, I'm always on the hunt for ways to simplify, plan ahead and add new items to my daughter's packed lunch.
Below, Certified Nutritionist Bonnie Flemington offers some very helpful tips for making school lunches great again!
Many of us have taken a break from creating and making daily school lunches, but as we get into “back to school” mode, we will be adding that task back into our daily routine.
I used to feel like making lunches was a huge chore. And even with some effort, I still felt like I wasn’t sending the healthiest food to school. But now after 3 kids, countless lunches, and a little more nutrition knowledge under my belt, I have finally come to a routine that works. And today, I am going to share my ideas with you!
First, keep lunchboxes and accessories all in the same place
There’s nothing like spending precious minutes searching around the kitchen to find the right lid to the right container! Make sure you have a spot for all your specific lunchbox accessories that can be returned there each day after school, and everyone knows where they are for easy packing in the morning. This is actually a great job for kids!
Using reusable containers is not only good for the environment, but it also means that the kids are not spending time figuring out how to open packages or asking for help. Using a box that divides into compartments is a good way to split up different foods, and the kids get used to how their own container is organized. With the limited amount of eating time that they have, it is important that they are not sidetracked.
A water bottle is also a great option. When giving kids juice every day, the sugar starts to add up and create a blood sugar spike that results in a crash mid-afternoon when they should be focusing on school work. Also, more than half of children and teenagers are not properly hydrated with water throughout the day.
Try out a new routine of drinking water at lunch. You might get some push back if your kids are used to juice, but if you persevere, drinking more water will become a lifelong habit they will be lucky to have learned.
Next, get your kids involved
Kids involvement is key to ensure you are packing what they will eat rather than what you think they “should” eat. Not only that, but being involved in lunch prep also gives them a sense of responsibility, which is something we are all ultimately trying to teach our kids.
Another benefit of kids involvement is that kids who help to prepare foods are more likely to make healthier choices. The more we can create healthy habits in kids, the less likely our kids will grow up to struggle with weight gain and the burden of chronic disease. Forming healthy habits isn’t easy (I’ve had my fair share of push back from my own kids!), but the short term pain is definitely worth it in the long run as our kids start to make healthier choices simply out of habit.
Finally, what to actually include
This is my secret formula ....
2 types of vegetables - This can be whatever your kids like. I usually include: cucumber, bell peppers, carrots, and sugar snap peas, with or without dip such as hummus or black bean dip.
2 types of fruit – Easy-to-eat options include apples (can be cut up and held together with an elastic), mandarin oranges, banana, or cut up pineapple
1 main – This is where it gets fun. There are lots of options that I rotate through such as:
1. Leftover dinner. This can be eaten cold or warmed in a thermos. Great options include chilli, soups, or protein and vegetable stir fries.
2. Salad with protein. The base can be lettuce, rice, quinoa, or legumes topped with protein or chopped vegetables your kids like. You can buy individually packed oil and vinegar to include too. Easiest if part of this is the side dish that you cooked for dinner the night before.
3. Leftover breakfast. An egg muffin can be made ahead and is a quick, easy lunch option.
4. The dreaded sandwich! This can get boring if it’s everyday, but once a week, filled and wrapped with different options keeps it interesting. If you can transition to using greens as a wrap, that would be super!
1 snack – Again, there are many great options to choose from that can be made in advance or purchased and kept together in a “lunch snack” area in your fridge or pantry.
Hard boiled egg
Nut free trail mix
1 water bottle - Don’t forget the water! Easy to do the night before and store in the fridge
My final tip is to make as much of the lunch the night before as possible. Right after dinner, when the kids are still hanging around the kitchen is a great time to get it done. Good luck! And, if you have a great lunch making routine that works well, share the love and post it here!
If you're like to learn more about how Bonnie and view some of the recipes she features on her website click here.