Make back-to-school-lunches count for nutrition
School is back in session and that means packing lunches, too.
Lunches should provide one-third of your child’s nutrition for the day - that means protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. What you include is important for their well-being and growth.
Buying convenient lunch kits is costly, and they are usually full of sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats. So here are some tips for packing nutrient-dense, kid-pleasing lunches.
Plan and prep ahead
- Pack lunches for everyone - kids and adults alike - after dinner
- Use leftovers from dinner as the base for the lunches tomorrow. Of course, if items need to be heated up, be sure the school has a microwave.
- When you grocery shop on the weekend, incorporate healthy lunch ideas on your list
Make sure lunch packs a nutritional punch:
- Protein (for growth) - Nut butters and nuts, hummus, cheese and Greek yogurt, fish, poultry and lean red meats
- Starch (for carbohydrate energy) - Whole-wheat breads, tortillas, rolls, crackers, pasta, rice
- Fruits and vegetables (for fiber, vitamins and minerals) - Raw or cooked: apple slices, bunches of grapes, assorted berries, kiwi slices, small bananas, light-packed mandarin oranges and applesauce, pineapple chunks, broccoli and cauliflower florets, cherry tomatoes, celery and zucchini sticks, baby carrots
- Beverages - Milk and water are best
Don’t forget food safety:
- Wash out lunchboxes with warm, sudsy water every night
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables before packing
- Chill food before storing it in the lunchbox
- Use frozen-solid ice packs
- Pack hot foods in an insulated thermos while the food is hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty and then put in the piping hot food. Tell your child to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime.
- Use an insulated lunch bag instead of a paper bag when packing perishable food items. Consider storing the bag in the freezer overnight to ensure it is as cold as possible before packing lunch.
Packing lunches from home is an economical and nutritious way to feed your children at school, but it does take some planning and prep. Let your creative juices flow so kids are excited about lunchtime.
- Rather than a plain peanut butter and jelly sandwich, try almond butter, slivered almonds and dried cranberries on a whole-grain tortilla for a flavor-packed roll-up.
- Cold, crunchy cereal with Greek yogurt for protein and seasonal fruit is a favorite.
- Add interesting ingredients to a whole-grain tortilla: hummus, roasted peppers, shredded cheese, sprouts, shredded cabbage, slivered nuts, dried fruits, avocado slices.
- Use a small thermos to store a hearty leftover stew, soup or spaghetti and meatballs.
By: Rita P. Smith, MS, RD, CDE, Martha Jefferson Hospital