Back To School: Tips For Packing A Healthy School Lunch
The kids are heading back to school for eight hours a day of reading, writing and math. Wedged between classes, they sit down for 30 minutes to re-energize with food. As parents, you want your kids to eat foods that help them be the best students they can be. But what kids want to eat and need to eat are sometimes two different things. Here are some tips for packing a healthy lunch that kids will eat and enjoy.
Mix & Match
There are five components you should include in your children's meals: protein, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy. It's a challenge to make those items tasty when you're packing them in lunch totes, but mixing and matching them can make the cafeteria the happiest place at school. For instance, your kids might not enjoy a plain apple, but apple slices with a little bit of peanut butter to make a complete protein is tasty enough they could be convinced it's dessert. If you want to get your hands dirty in the kitchen, you can also make no-bake energy snacks that require no refrigeration. The Gunny Sack makes one using wholesome ingredients including flaxseed (considered a superfood), oats, peanut butter for protein, and chocolate for a little bit of indulgence. The idea is to fill your kids up with calories their bodies can use efficiently.
Protein & Dairy
When we were growing up, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were an easy way for kids to enjoy their protein and grains, but with peanut allergies on the rise, many administrations have made schools nut-free zones. Now parents have to come up with tasty lunch ideas that don't require refrigeration but also give kids an adequate amount of protein. Sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds) is a delicious alternative to peanut butter and other butters made from tree nuts. There are also soy butters that can be used in place of peanut butter. Hard cheese is a good source of protein and dairy that can handle a few hours at room temperature without spoiling. If your kids are old enough, send along individual cans of tuna; anything canned doesn't need to be refrigerated until it's opened. Cured meats like salami and Italian or Spanish ham can also survive a few hours without refrigeration, but food safety authorities encourage refrigeration. Most dairy products require refrigeration, so your best bet for making sure your kids are getting enough is by giving them milk money.
When you're buying bread and crackers to go with your cheese and meat, try to buy whole grain products. This is tricky because there are many "whole wheat" breads, but whole wheat and "whole grain" are not the same thing. The reason nutrition experts are trying to steer people away from white flour is because it's been stripped of its nutrition (then sometimes fortified with vitamins), but the process to get wheat to such a fine powder leaves none of the fiber we need for digestion. It also causes a spike in blood sugar when we eat it because all that's left are the carbohydrates. Whole wheat just means that the grain has been milled very finely -- you don't want that because the carbohydrates are exposed. The pieces of grains in whole grain products means we have to work to get to the carbohydrates (we usually can't) through chewing. Whole grains allow you to take the nutrients you need and the bad stuff moves through your body faster and give them the energy they need for after school sports.
Fruits & Veggies
Fruits and vegetables are easy to pack into lunches because they don't require refrigeration and sometimes they don't require a lot of prep work. Baby carrots and grape tomatoes are fun to eat as well as healthy, and a good serving fits nicely in a container or plastic bag. Apples, oranges and bananas all come in nature-made packaging. The one thing you should be aware of is fruit juice. Though the National School Lunch Program considers ½-cup of fruit juice a serving of fruit, it may not be the healthiest way to get important nutrients. Like white flour, a lot of pre-packaged fruit juice is stripped of its fiber, leaving behind a lot of sugar. The fiber in whole fruit helps your body digest the sugar and keep blood sugar balanced. Whole fruit is the healthier and easier option.