As a Nutritionist, I’m frequently asked what I pack in my own son’s lunchbox. It can be tough to prioritize packing a lunch when life is so busy. It may be impossible to see past the Lunchables® or the same old PB&J you throw together while guzzling your cup of coffee before getting everyone out the door in the morning! But making your child’s lunch should really be a priority. Why? Unfortunately, data reports that over 50% of U.S. children are eating less than recommended amount of fruits, vegetables and fiber while typically consuming excess sodium and sugar. And, besides the obvious reason that children need nutrients for physical growth, research suggests a number of benefits to maintaining a healthy diet.
- Children who eat healthier and are physically active perform better academically and have fewer reported school absences.
- Nutrient deficiencies or diets high in saturated and trans fats have negative impacts on cognition and mood. Behavioral and attention problems are sometimes worsened by vitamin or mineral deficiencies or exposure to artificial additives.
- Around 1 in 3 American children are overweight or obese putting them at risk for chronic illnesses such as hypertension, type II diabetes and depression.
So, enough with the guilt trip! How do you make healthy lunches without the constant stress? A little planning and the right tools will have you rocking out nutritious lunches in no time.
Make a “master list”
It’s easier to plan a lunch menu if you have a list to choose from. Sit down with your kids and make a list according to food categories (protein, veggie, fruit, sides) that can be included in their lunches. Try swapping out processed grains with whole grain products, always include fruit and veggies and avoid foods with excess sugar and fats. Choose whole foods like fruit instead of juice and focus on low-sodium proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates for balanced lunches.
Write a menu plan
Use the master list to make a weekly or monthly menu. This helps with making grocery lists and eliminates impulse buying or poor last-minute decisions during the week. Love technology? Try a handy phone app for planning or let kids browse at pictures online for new ideas. (Try 100daysofrealfood.com or Pinterest.)
Get the right containers
Choose a lunchbox and containers that work together and fit your needs. If a child likes to have foods separated, choose something compartmentalized.
Prep ahead on weekends
Take an hour to slice or steam veggies to store in the fridge, bake and slice chicken or make hummus or egg salad to have on hand. Pre-portion snacks into baggies or reusable containers.
Lunch does not have to be sandwiches. Pack dinner leftovers. Make little kabobs on toothpicks with cherry tomatoes, meat and cheese. Make whole wheat pasta salad or quesadillas with veggies and beans. Try making a rainbow of colors one day or send breakfast for lunch with a whole grain waffle, Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. Swap air popped popcorn or apple chips for potato chips. Cut fruits into fun shapes or send a dip for fruits/veggies. Bake banana or carrot muffins and freeze some for later.
Remember to involve your children as much as possible! Not only does it empower them to be part of the decision-making process but it helps them gain valuable life skills in meal planning and preparation setting them up for a lifetime of good health. Happy lunching!
Want more healthy lunch ideas or need help with your family’s nutrition? Christie Borders, MS, of Food Foremost Nutrition LLC is a functional integrative nutritionist working with Dr. Aaron Mobley at Indiana Chiropractic & Rehab LLC. Contact her at [email protected] or at 812-336-7246.