I’m starting to shed tears thinking about school starting back up again. I’m sending my first born off to kindergarten this year. I cry anytime I think about it, and believe it or not, I’m shedding some tears while writing this post.
We did everything to prepare for the first day of school: final registration, school physical and immunization, dental visit, eye exam, purchased backpack, school supplies, gym shoes, new school clothes…but then my son comes to me and asks me about his lunchbox. Light bulb! I am going to have to start packing a lunch. Now don’t get me wrong, he can learn to eat a few school lunches, but I’m still going to be packing quite a few lunches to make sure he is nutritionally sound at lunch. I have put my dietitian mommy hat on and put together 9 tips to help pack a nutritious school lunch.
1) Get your kids involved by asking them about their favorite foods they would like to see in their lunch. I know you may get some off the wall ideas and candy cannot be an entrée, but a treat every once in a while won’t hurt.
2) Have your kids help you pack their lunch the night before. The more you get them involved, the more likely they will eat the food! Bonus, you have one less item on your morning to-do list.
3) Think of quick, healthy foods like fruit smoothies, whole grain crackers and string cheese. If Here’s a little trick to make smoothies last, make enough smoothies for a couple days –then just drop in ice cubes in the thermos the next morning.
4) Remember the #plategoals (Half the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein). Use this as an opportunity to teach your children about the food groups and fruits and vegetables. There is no parent fail if you don’t get a veggie in their lunch, however, encourage them to snack on some after school and to include them at dinner.
5) Try to include at least 2 colors of plant-based foods at lunch. For example: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun!
6) Invest in a fun new lunch box, an ice pack, and some food containers your kids help pick out. I’ve learned that younger kids often times have to see the food through the container to be interested in opening it, so clear lunch food containers may increase the odds of it being opened and eaten. Big on the market are Bento boxes.
7) If you have an extra minute, which I know we don’t usually, try and label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus” –it may help the lunchbox come home empty.
8) Offer variety, but remember to keep portion sizes small. Try 5 pieces of sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon, a small turkey and cheese wrap and a small square of black bean brownie with an 8oz carton of milk. With small different options, you are increasing the chances your child will get a balanced meal at lunch.
9) Add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or even a cookie cutter. Shaping foods make meals more appealing, and doesn’t take much time.
There is no fool proof way to make sure your kids will eat their lunch while at school, but you can at least know you are doing your part for their health. Happy Back to School!!