Lunch plays an important role in children’s overall health and school performance. Eating a healthy lunch can help kids concentrate in school, have energy for practices after school, and keep them from over eating on low-nutrient, high calorie snacks after school. When packing a school lunch for your child, the trick is providing a lunch that is both healthy—providing a nutritional punch, and also appeals to your child. The following ideas may help you create lunches your child will eat, rather than throw away.
Lunches don’t have to be fancy, they just need to fuel your child. Think about balanced meals including different food groups. Try to pack at least three to four food groups in each lunch. Always try to pack a fruit and/or vegetable and a healthy protein source (such as meat, nuts, beans, cheese, peanut butter). Also include a grain- preferably a whole grain (such as whole grain bread, wraps, crackers). The fiber from whole grains, fruit and vegetables combined with the protein will keep your child feeling satisfied throughout the day. It is important to let your child be involved in this process. If kids help plan their lunches, they are more likely to eat them. Talk to your kids and make a list of their favorite fruits, vegetables/dip, grains and protein sources. Then, stock your kitchen with these items. This will help make the packing process a little easier and quicker.
When it comes to drinks, water and milk are ideal choices. Milk provides calcium for growing bones and protein. While whole fruit is preferred, 100% fruit juice can be an acceptable replacement, just keep the serving size small (6 oz). Avoid packing beverages with added sugars.
There is definitely room for a small treat in a child’s lunch, but think miniature size- such as a snack size candy bar, small cookie , mini cupcake or pudding cup. Try to avoid packing a lunch full of calorie-dense, low nutrient foods like chips, sodas, cookies/sweets, fruit snacks and granola bars. These foods will not keep your child feeling full and satisfied for long.
There are only a limited number of opportunities during the day to feed you child nutritious food. Lunch is an important time to do so. Variety is the basis of good nutrition, but don’t worry if your child wants exactly the same lunch for a few weeks in a row. Work around normal pickiness. Create a list of alternatives. For example, if sandwiches are in the “don’t like” category, the following might work instead:
- Cracker sandwiches (whole grain crackers with a protein source-meat/cheese/peanut butter
- Little salads with protein (cheese, nuts, beans)
- Bread free sandwiches (such as turkey slices wrapped around a cheese stick with whole grain crackers on the side
- Leftovers from supper work as well
Add a fruit and/or vegetable with dip and a dairy source (yogurt/milk) and you have a well balanced meal. Try to see each meal as an opportunity to provide your child with a variety of different, healthy food that will fuel their brains and bodies for the afternoon.
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