Are your school (or work!) lunches in need of a revamp? Are you struggling with ideas to keep things interesting and healthy? Want to learn some tips and tricks for encouraging your kids to make healthier lunch choices? Intrigued by what we’re putting in our own lunchboxes 🙂 ? This article gathers input from across our clinic team to help you make healthier lunches a reality.
It’s that time of year in New England, the leaves are changing, the smell of fall is in the air, and kids are back at school. The start of the school year can be a challenging transition for parents and children alike, particularly when it comes to getting back into the school year routine – lunches included!
While packing school lunches can seem like a daunting task, there is truly no greater gift than packing your kids a healthy satisfying lunch that will fuel and nourish them throughout their busy day. Here are our top six lunch tips followed by links to some nutritionist approved lunchbox items. Please comment below with any additional tips- we’d love to hear them!
Tip 1: Pack Lunches in Advance
Every parent knows weekday mornings can be busy. Most of us scramble to get kids dressed and everyone out the door. It’s not easy to find time to pack lunch! To help the morning run a bit smoother pack lunches the night before. A great time to pack a lunch is right after dinner; since everything is already out, you can pack up the leftovers and place them right into the lunch box.
Tip 2: Involve your Children
One of the best ways to encourage kids to try new foods and to eat a more balanced and nutrient dense lunch is to involve them in the process. Involving your kids can start at the grocery store, farmer’s market, or local farms—bring your kids along and let them smell, touch, and taste foods.
When you involve your children in the preparation of their lunch they will build a sense of ownership and pride, and practice decision making. Why not create a template for your kids so they know what items should make up their lunch? A suggestion from one of our team members was 1 protein/main dish, 2 vegetables, 1 fruit, and 1 snack/treat.
Tip 3: Skip the Plastic Packaging
There are many wonderful products on the market that can help you stop hormone-disrupting plastic chemicals from leaching into your lunches. Here are some of our team favorites:
- Metal Straws
- Stasher bags (great for use as sandwich/snack baggies)
- Beeswrap (Can be used to seal anything placed into the lunch box)
- Smoothie Containers
- Reusable water bottles- here are a few brands we like: Kleen Kanteen, Takeya, Swell
- Cloth napkins
- Reusable cutlery
- Metal lunch containers
Tip 4: Batch Cook
Batch cooking is a great way to save time and stock your freezer with go to lunch items. Some things that you can batch cook and freeze easily include soups, stews, chili, and meatballs.
It can be helpful to portion out these items into mason jars and place them in the freezer for storage – these mason jars can go straight from freezer to refrigerator to lunch bag if needed. Freeze the contents in the jars with the lids off first, then place the lids on (helps to avoid cracking the glass when the liquids inside expand). When packing the mason jars into lunches, we recommend putting them into the refrigerator the night before so that they can defrost.
Tip 5: Make it Visually Appealing
Kids love colors, variety, and often like having food separated into different compartments. Including different bags and containers in lunch boxes is a great way for kids to improve their motor skills and to allow them to make decisions about what food they want to eat first and how much of it.
One of our nutritionists encourages parents to focus on packing lunches with lots of colorful nutrient dense food, think salmon, leafy greens, and berries. Offering children a variety of colorful foods will help expose them to new flavors and textures. A fun way to separate items is using these silicone cupcake holders, these are great for cut veggies and fruit, popcorn, nuts, and just about anything that can fit in them. There are some wonderful non-plastic lunch boxes on the market that can help streamline the lunch packing process with their built in dividers, check out the Planet Box and LunchBots.
Tip 6: Maintain Balance to Ensure Long-Lasting Success
Balance is key for life, and also for packed lunches! It isn’t necessarily ideal to restrict foods entirely from our children’s diets.
To that end, we recommend balancing nutrient dense, colorful foods with the occasional treat, as long as there isn’t a medical contraindication. This helps a great deal when kids are also exposed to others eating treats at school and don’t want to be singled out for having a restricted diet.
Balance might mean a weekly pizza day, sweet treat, or piece of candy. Of course, we suggest healthier versions of these treats (organic, natural, etc.) and only in moderation.
Healthy Snack and Lunch Ideas
Our team has compiled some of our favorite go to snack and lunch options below, we hope you’ll consider adding a few of these to the lunches you pack.
- CHOMPS Jerky
- Wella Bars
- Mary’s Gone Crackers
- Methylation Trail Mix
- Know Better Slices
- Homemade Fudge (We recommend using ½ the amount of raisins)
- Homemade Muffins
- Love Good Fats Bars
- Life Changing Loaf of Bread
- Banana Bread
- Hard boiled eggs
- Chopped vegetables with hummus
Sneak peek! Here are some sample lunches from staff nutritionist Janine Henkel MS CNS and our nutrition resident Lindley Wells MS CNSc.