As a parent you want only what is best for your child. However, if your child is a picky eater, packing a school lunch can seem like more eff ort than its worth. (Sorry, Mom!) Sometimes it’s just easier to give your child lunch money and hope for the best. Truth be told, public school cafeteria food is not the best choice. The frozen pizza and French fries served to students will not provide them with the nutrition necessary for sustained energy and focus during the school day.
So how can you provide nutritious food for your little eater while reducing the chance your packed lunch will be traded for a package of Ring Dings? Here are some suggestions for putting together healthy, tasty school lunches.
INVOLVE THE EATER
First and foremost, involve your child in all stages of creating her or his lunch, including planning and shopping. A tool that I have found valuable is the use of a blank calendar. Sit down with your child and brainstorm a list of lunches and snacks. From this list, plug five days’ worth of meals into the blank calendar. Give your child choices: “Do you want raisins or apples with this meal?”
By doing this together, your child can take ownership over his/her lunches, making it less likely he/she will trade it away, and you are better able to visualize and make sure all nutritional bases are being covered. From this meal plan, you can create a shopping list and have everything you need for quick, easy preparation throughout the week.
BUILD A NUTRITIOUS LUNCH BOX
Your child is like a fireplace: Th ere are a few key components needed to keep the fire burning long and strong.
The first component, the kindling, is complex carbohydrates: fruits and vegetables, whole-grain bread, oats and other unrefi ned starches like yams and winter squash. Th ese foods provide immediate energy and brainpower.
The second component, the sticks, is protein: lentils, edamame, chickpeas, lean meat and eggs are a few of the healthy choices. These foods keep the fi re burning longer than carbohydrates alone, which equals longer-lasting energy for your child. Protein also supplies essential amino acids needed for building strong muscles and tissues.
The third component, the logs, is healthy fats: avocado, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, nut butters and organic dairy products are a few foods from this category. Healthy fats help boost brainpower, supplying your child with vital nutrients needed for concentration and sustained energy.
A fourth essential component is fluid: Water and 100% juice are the most important. Being properly hydrated is crucial for mental and physical performance, as well as maintaining even energy levels. Adding a slice of lemon, orange or cucumber makes water more appealing for a child. If your child’s lunch box contains complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and water or diluted juice they will have longlasting energy and focus throughout the school day.
MIX THINGS UP
The name of the game is variety. From a nutritional standpoint , when you are eating a wide variety of foods you are covering all your bases. Eating a rainbow of colors everyday is a surefire way to take in optimal amounts of different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Try cherry tomatoes, tangerines, yellow peppers, green beans, blueberries and purple cabbage. This can be a fun game to play while planning the week’s lunches. When we eat the same foods everyday, we are sure to miss out on significant nutrients. Rotating items from each category allows for endless possibilities. Mixing it up will also keep lunches fun and exciting!
The chart to the left will help you get started. Choose one item from each column and you are sure to be supplying your child with a nutritious, well-balanced meal to get through the school day with sustained energy and concentration. Good luck and good health!
Morgan Kulchinsky is a certified holistic nutrition educator and natural foods chef. Morgan believes that eating healthy can be fun, inexpensive, delicious and fit into your busy life. She shares this belief as culinary coach for the Nutrition Center, where she teaches nutrition-based cooking classes for adults and children throughout Berkshire County. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit TheNutritionCenter.org or Food-Adventures.org.