Packing nutritious and satisfying lunches can be a challenge for parents and guardians. With the stress of getting the kids out the door, it is quicker to fill their lunch bags with peanut butter and cracker packs, a bag of chips, prepackaged cookies, and a juice box. While it may be easier for you, with all the sugar inevitably present in prepackaged foods, your child will likely be bouncing out of their seat and unable to concentrate in school. Invest in your child’s education by giving extra thought to a healthy and well-rounded brown-bag lunch.
Problem: Convenience is key, and grab-and-go food just works! However, there is a serious lack of overall nutrition in these types of lunches. I have seen children come into my classroom with an entire sleeve of buttery crackers, a huge frosted doughnut log, a full-size bag of cheese tortilla chips, and a deli sandwich that would fill a grown man. I won’t fib and say that making a well-balanced lunch is as quick and easy as stopping at a convenience store for lunch items prior to school or after a long day of work, or buying prepackaged crackers and cookies at the grocery store. And kids don’t want raw vegetables and brown rice for lunch. I get it! However, building a healthy lunch isn’t as difficult as you may imagine.
Solution: Think outside the box and think ahead! To keep children feeling satisfied (and not deprived), think about how you can crowd in good food and lessen the naughty, not-so-good-for-you foods in their lunch. Make the featured food item in a lunch as healthy as possible. If your child likes a bagel with cream cheese, a hugely popular lunch sandwich, try a mini whole wheat bagel, and for an even healthier twist, try topping it with hummus! And if your child likes peanut butter and jelly, try it on whole wheat bread with the most natural peanut butter you can find (look for peanuts as the sole ingredient) and sliced strawberries or mashed berries. For snacks, consider colorful foods and/or bright colorful containers. The more colors present in the lunch, the better! Cherry tomatoes and grapes, sweet and easy to pop in your mouth, are an easy sell and a great snack for kids. Kids love dipping, so try carrot sticks and yogurt or celery and hummus.
Buying Tip: If your child loves a bag of chips, buy one large bag and put individualized portions into plastic bags or containers. These portion-controlled snacks will keep everyone in your home on track. Why not buy single-serve bags of chips at a convenience store? Many times, what appears to be a single-serving chip bag is actually more than a serving, sometimes as much as three servings in one bag.
A few minutes of forethought on food choices and the containers in which they are placed can greatly impact how your child views lunch and snacking.
- Make it a game. Have your child be a part of picking the food they want in their lunch. Give them some freedom to pick from a variety of foods, but tell them they have to “shop” for an item from each of the adult-designated food groups—fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole-grain carbohydrates, and fat. Now it is a challenge!
- Take out the processed breads. This is a great place to implement a food swap. Have your children use half an avocado as a boat for their tuna fish or chicken salad or simply choose whole-grain bread over white bread.
- Redefine sweet treat. If your son or daughter needs that sweet treat, put a bite-size square of dark chocolate in their lunch box for an after-meal treat. The sweet should be a treat. . . not the meal. If they absolutely refuse to go for dark chocolate, do a small bite-size piece of milk chocolate. Just aim for better than the large prepackaged brownie or bag of mini chocolate chip cookies.