Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches

Mother Packing Her Son's Lunch --- Image by © Randy Faris/Corbis

For some parents, making kids’ lunches can be harder than preparing dinner for the evening. It’s stressful having to buy things in bulk, plan for each child’s preferences, and ensure they have enough food and snacks to last them every Monday to Friday for the next nine months. PLUS you have to wonder if they really eat what you pack!

Put those reasons together and it is no wonder parents opt out for food that is quicker, easier, and cheaper to put into a school lunch.

Hello healthy, good-bye junk food!

The problem is that most foods parents think are getting the job done, are rather extremely unhealthy for your children.

What your children eat at a younger age will determine their food preferences in the future, and we all know too well that childhood obesity is an ever-growing problem.

Childhood is the time to reinforce healthy eating habits for your children, so that as they grow older they will appreciate and continue to make healthy eating choices. Here are some tips and tricks to pack energy-rich and healthy school lunches for your kids of all ages.

1. Stock up on fresh fruits and veggies. 

Lunch-Box-Photo_500x333-copyWe’re very familiar that these are the big players of the food groups, and the even better thing is- if there’s anything you can purchase in bulk, it’s fruits and veggies!

If your kid doesn’t like eating veggies raw, ranch dressing, natural peanut butter, cheese, Greek yogurt are healthy dips you can easily pack mess-free for kids.

For younger kids, the easier it is for them to eat something, the higher the likelihood that the child will eat them. Cut up their apples for them, pre-peel their oranges and pick the grapes off the vines, chuck them all in a zip-top bag or container, and voila, easy snacks galore. Same things go with the veggies. Yeah I know, we kids are lazy.

2. Avoid sugary drinks.sugar-drinks-300x240

My two siblings and I were crazy about Capri Sun juice pouches. Now that I’m older and know how to read a nutrition label, they’ve got quite the amount of sugar to them! Now, I’m definitely not saying kids can’t drink these period, but you most certainly should not be letting them drink one or two a day.

Alternative – pack smaller water bottles (8 fl oz.) or bottles of 100% fruit juices (orange, pomegranate, V8, or 100% juice blends). Limit the sports drinks, the extremely sugary fruit cocktails, sodas, and artificial drinks.

3. Potato chips, cookies, and candy are a big no-no.

If your children head to the pantry and fridge often and sweets await them, you’re planting an expectancy that there will always be some form of junk food for them to eat.

Snack foods are perfectly fine in small quantities and special occasions, but especially if your kids pack their own lunches, you don’t want them eating a bag of potato chips or a pack of Twinkies every single day.

Buy these items in small quantities and ration them out for lunches per week or two weeks.  This is a great opportunity for you to be the teacher! Educate them on why these foods should not be eaten so often. Tell them that because you love them, it is your job to protect them from foods that contain a lot of fats and sugars that cause weight gain, cavities, and other health problems – not just for kids, but adults, too.

4. Switch things up!

Aw, mom! Not peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again?! The same lunch meals over and over will tire your kids and make them want to eat it less and less. There are so many great ways you can change up the same meal

  • Substitute wheat bread versus white bread, tortilla wraps, pita or flat bread;
  • Change that ham and Swiss to turkey and cheddar;
  • Try Avocado or guacamole instead of s mayonnaise …

The list of possibilities is endless.  Yes, you can pack an occasional Lunchables, chicken nuggets, or treat your child to some fast food, but everything in moderation.

Fake-Food5. Say goodbye to processed meats and cheeses.

Yesm it’s cheap. Ys, it’ s delicious. Yes, it’s easy to use. Last but not least – and YES it is not healthy whatsoever. Sorry Kraft Cheddar Cheese and Oscar Meyer Bologna!

Reading the ingredients list should set off  warning alarms. Processed foods have a lot of preservatives, sodium, fat, oils, and more.

Always look for natural ingredients.  Try using your local deli to get healthier deli meats. Buy blocks of low-fat cheese and cut it yourself – you can even pull out some fun cookie cutters to make it festive.

6. Let the kids pack their lunches with you.

pack-lunchWhen you teach your kids how to pack a proper, healthy lunch, as time goes on by, they’ll be able to do the same alone.

If they opt for something that isn’t a good choice, remember to (a) explain why; and (b) give them at  least one alternative.

Kids love to ask “But why?” so take the time to explain to them at a level they can understand. Remember, the key is to start young! By second grade they can help you pack lunch. By middle school they should be able to pack their own lunch.

If you pack lunch for them all the time, and don’t work together, you can’t learn what they’re eating and not eating at school. You also lose an opportunity for explaining why you’re trying to get them to eat things they don’t think they want to eat.

It takes 10 minutes! Go through lunch and snack plans with your kids. The perfect time to pack lunches are the night before, right after dinner or right before bed. That makes the morning less stressful and you’re less likely to grab a junk food item off the pantry shelf.

7. Pack a note in their lunch

Healthy for the body? Not really. Healthy for the mind? YES. My mom used to always make my lunch, and only on the first day of school in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade did she stick a note in my lunch. My siblings would get a simple note in English, but for me my mom would write the note in Vietnamese for me (because I am the only one who could read it). Not only did it make me feel really happy and nice inside, but she got an opportunity to exercise her Vietnamese writing skills (which doesn’t happen a lot anymore). I saved all these notes and they’re still in my desk at home. Whether it’s a reminder to do their chores when they get home, a corny joke, or a quick I love you, hand-written notes are a memorable keepsake and a break from all the other technological devices we use to communicate nowadays.

Healthy living and eating is a lifestyle. As parents, it is our responsibility to model good choices, and meals – whether they are breakfast, lunch or dinner!


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