How To Pack a Healthier Lunchbox
As a teacher and a Culinary Nutrition Expert, I am frequently asked for tips on packing healthy lunches for children. I could go on and on about the subject, but I have conveniently boiled it down to three basic guidelines to keep things simple. These tips will help you pack nutritious lunches for your child that will keep them going strong all day long. By the way, these guidelines apply to people of ALL ages; not just kids! Let them inform your decisions about your own brown bag lunch as well!
1. Fruits & Vegetables
This one is a no-brainer, right? Pack as many fruits and vegetables as you can into your child’s lunch. Picky eaters? Ask them to help you choose new fruits and vegetables to try each week but also pack things that you know they love. Try preparing your veggies in various ways as well-- maybe your child hates cooked broccoli but loves it raw. Try adding a dipping sauce for added interest like hummus, guacamole, salsa, pesto, or nut/seed butters. Who doesn’t love to dip their fruits and veggies?
Another way to encourage fruit and vegetable is to start a challenge at home. Create an “Eat the Rainbow” chart and allow your child to check off the colors they eat each day. Set a prize or goal for the end of each week if they eat at least one of each color during the week. An example could be a fun activity like a bike ride, a trip to the park or a family hike. Try to avoid the typical sweet treats and toys as incentives. And remember, kids mimic what they see. If you want to raise healthy eaters, you need to be eating those veggies, too.
2. Balanced Meals
When your meals are balanced with fat, protein and fiber, you will feel better. Healthy fats keep our organs working optimally, protein gives us energy, and fiber keeps us feeling full. A balanced meal contains all three.
Good sources of healthy fats: avocado, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds.
Good sources of healthy protein: lentils, beans, tempeh, hummus, nut butters (if you are not plant-based then eggs or wild-caught salmon are also good options.)
Good sources of fiber: fruits and vegetables (keep those peels on apples, cucumbers, carrots, etc. for extra fiber and nutrients!), beans, lentils, grains.
When considering grains, be sure to vary your options. Try millet, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, farro, and bulgur.
3. Skip the Sugar
Yes, it’s tough. I get it. However, your child does not need sugar at school. In fact, most schools discourage it. My school does not allow students to bring candy, nor should they. Children are at school to learn and grow in every way, and all those sugar highs (and lows) will only hinder their growth and progress each day. Though they may beg you for the sweet stuff, do them a favor and pack a lunch that is low in sugar and high in nutritional value. The outcome will be worth it!
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of sugar for children per DAY is 4 Teaspoons. When you read labels, be mindful that 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. That means one of those drink pouches, which has 16 grams of sugar (yikes!), is your child’s TOTAL RDA for the entire day. Those yogurt tubes contain 9 grams, which is more than half the daily allowance. It’s time to start rethinking your snacks to keep those sugar bugs away. Water is always the best beverage to send with your child and making your own granola bars at home ensures you have control over how much sugar is in your child’s snack.
You can do this! Add variety, and allow your children to help you pick fruits and veggies to add to their lunch boxes. Trying new foods as a family can really help to instill healthy eating habits. I’m here to cheer you on! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.