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
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat, brown rice or whole grain pasta
- Tortilla chips
- 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
- Found in:
- Animal protein (eggs, chicken, turkey, meat, cheese, full or low-fat dairy)
- Nuts and seeds
- Found in:
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 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!
Below are FIVE different ideas for lunches. Feel free to mix and match and swap in your kids’ favorite foods. These are just suggestions, and may not work for all kids, but hopefully will spark some lunch creativity in your house!
Almond butter and strawberry jelly on whole grain bread with strawberries, cucumbers, and popcorn
- Choose any nut (or seed) butter that is made ONLY from the nut and maybe salt. There should be no added oils, sugars, or additional ingredients.
Select a jelly that has no added sugar. Fruit juice is so sweet on its own. Try this one from Trader Joe’s. I also like the brands: St. Dalfour and Polaner All Fruit.
- Choose bread that has the first ingredient as WHOLE wheat flour (just “wheat flour” means WHITE flour). Also make sure there are no added sugars, preservatives and/or ingredients you cannot pronounce. This is Bread Alone brand. I also like Ezekial bread and English muffins.
- I recommend using ORGANIC produce as much as possible. See my blog to learn more: https://www.robinbarrie.com/is-organic-the-right-choice/
- Try selecting air-popped popcorn that is homemade or made with ONLY olive oil or coconut oil and a pinch of salt.
- These grain free Siete chips are made with cassava flour, coconut flour, avocado oil and chia. Not only are they healthy, they are delicious and a great alternative to regular corn chips.
- The organic guacamole single packs are made by Wholly Guacamole.
- This is Applegate Farms turkey pepperoni made without added nitrates.
- I use Primal Kitchen ranch dressing made with avocado oil.
- For the younger kids, I recommend slicing the carrots into thinner strips so they are easier to eat.
- For pizza I like both Amy’s Organic and Trader Joe’s organic, both which are frozen. I also love Cali’flour Foods cauliflower pizza and Cappello’s brands for gluten free options. Or you can make your own by following my recipe: https://www.robinbarrie.com/?s=cauliflower+pizza
- Simple Mills makes single packs of their plain and cheddar crackers, which are great healthy, gluten-free alternatives for traditional Wheat Thins or Cheeze-Its.
- This is organic honey-roasted turkey breast and organic cheddar cheese slices from Whole Foods. You can try other types of turkey (pepper, smoked, pastrami, etc.) and chesses to switch it up. Or try cucumbers or peppers in the roll up.
- I use either the 365 Whole Foods brand or Good Health Veggie Chips.
- I love this yogurt because it’s thick and great for dipping, high in protein with 15 grams per cup and low in sugar.
- My kids like to use these Veggie Stix (Whole Foods or Good Health) to dip in the yogurt.
- I keep frozen edamame in the freezer. Both shelled and in the pod versions are available at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and most other markets.
HAVE A HAPPY, HEALTHY START TO YOUR SCHOOL YEAR!!
All my best to you and your families!
****For additional individual or family Nutrition Counseling, contact me via the phone number or email address below. Check out my website and social media for additional recipes and ideas!
****None of these recommendations or products are sponsored. They are simply items that I like and use for my kids and clients.
Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, CSSD
Certified Personal Trainer