It’s hard to believe the first quarter of the school year has come and gone. By now, your daily schedule is likely packed with school events, after-school activities and homework. And chances are, those healthy school lunches you were determined to send with your child to school have fallen by the wayside, victims of more convenient – albeit unhealthy – options.
Breakfast may be considered the most important meal of the day, but lunch runs a close second. After all, it keeps kids energized both mentally and physically until dinner time. Balanced meals, those that include a mix of grains, fruits, veggies, meat or protein, and dairy, are best, but finding healthy food options your kids will actually eat can quickly become time consuming and overwhelming. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Parenting magazines and Pinterest boast thousands of creative ideas for healthy school lunches. But if you’re short on time – and creativity – head over to ChooseMyPlate.gov, one of the best sources for tips on packing nutritious lunches and snacks, especially for families on the go. The site provides practical information on eating well and features recipes, menus, food safety insight and kid-centered videos such as On the Go Snack Boxes and Eating Fruits and Veggies. And, check in with your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor, who can be tremendous resources.
If your young ones don’t care to stray far from the tried and true lunch menu, some simple swaps can boost the health quotient of some of their favorite foods.
Peanut butter and jelly – Jam made from whole fruit cuts down on sugar and boosts fiber, while using a nut butter other than peanut will change up the taste and reduce the fat content. Exchange white bread for whole grain bread with 5-6 grams of fiber, and you’ve got a pretty healthy sandwich. If you meet with some resistance, start with bread that has 1-2 grams of fiber and slowly increase the fiber content as taste buds adjust.
Meat lovers – Use low-sodium lean meat such as turkey or grilled chicken and avoid processed cheese slices. Swap mustard for mayo and slip in a lettuce leaf. Or leave off the cheese slice and pack string cheese on the side. Again, go for whole grain bread with a high fiber content.
Non-meat lovers – Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, beans and nuts all provide a protein punch.
Drinks and sides – Opt for water or low-fat milk, and replace the chips with apples, carrots, grapes, strawberries, cucumbers or cherry tomatoes.
Lastly, keep food safety in mind. Drop an ice pack into an insulated lunch bag to keep perishable foods cold.