Back to School Lunches

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

School is in session! That means there are lunches to pack and learning to be done. Proper nutrition and learning go hand in hand, which comes as no surprise. It is also evident that the obesity levels of school-aged children is higher than ever before, suggesting our eating habits (and activity levels) have become unbalanced.

The start of a new school year is a great time for a healthy makeover for the whole family. Here are a few ideas on foods to purchase and pack!

Let's start by talking produce.

Product ideas:

  • Fresh fruit – little preparation required (apples, bananas, grapes, plums, nectarines, berries).

  • Pre-packaged fresh fruit: great for very hectic days. It is not bad to purchase 1 serving for each child a week so you have something to grab on extra hectic weeks. These are also great to eat on the way to an extracurricular activity.

  • Dried fruit: I tend to pack fresh fruit AND dried fruit because the dry fruit makes a great snack if needed, and if not I can use it again later. Instruct your children to eat the fresh first. Dried fruit can also be great on those extra hectic days.

  • Fresh vegetables: Many are great raw--carrots, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, sugar snap peas (remove the strings), cherry tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, and bell peppers. To add variety serve with dip--salsa, light dressing or hummus.

  • Cooked vegetables: Many vegetables are wonderful lightly steamed, and a great idea is to use what you are making for dinner the night before. For example, if you are steaming broccoli one night for dinner, take a serving or two out after just a few minutes of steaming so it is still bright green with a bit of crunch and pack it for tomorrow’s lunch. This is great with marinara dipping sauce.

  • Pre-packaged cut vegetables can also be a life saver when it comes to packed lunches on the fly.

Non-produce ideas for healthy packed lunches:

  • Whole grain: Many options are available here, from crackers to pita bread. One of my favorite (relatively) new products is the 100% whole wheat Pepperidge farm cinnamon raisin bread. This could be a nice breakfast bread or a good change for the standard nut butter sandwich.

  • Whole grain cereal makes a good snack choice too.

  • Check out the tuna aisle these days. Salmon also comes in a can and makes a great sandwich. Some tuna comes as salad already; be sure to include your own whole grain crackers, as many of the “lunch kits” have trans fat in the crackers. Read those ingredient labels!

  • While we are in the canned aisle, do not forget refried beans. An easy dip is to mix the beans with salsa--delicious on whole grain tortillas or baked chips.

  • Calcium for kids: Many kiddos do not meet calcium recommendations. There are several ways to incorporate calcium into lunch; dairy foods are the most obvious example.

    • Milk: Can be purchased at school or in tetra packs at the store for the packed lunch. Look for lower sugar varieties if using flavored milk. I don’t think flavored milk is all bad, because the sugar is actually coupled with a nutrient-rich food. However I do wish the pre-made flavored milk was a bit less high in sugar… this is where making your own can help.

    • Cheese: Choose lower fat varieties.

    • Yogurt: Again with the sugar issue. Choose the lowest sugar variety available some of my favorites are:

      • Stoneyfield low fat vanilla (28 g sugar in 8 ounces, 2g fat, 35% DV calcium, and 25% Vitamin D.

      • Yoplait kids: (4 ounces = 13g sugar, 2g fat, 1g fiber, 20% Daily Value for calcium, 10% Daily Value for vitamin D).

      • Yo Kids organic, low fat (4 ounces = 13g sugar, 20% Daily Value for calcium, 25% Daily Value for vitamin D)

      • Any plain yogurt usually works as well, add a touch of honey or fresh fruit to enhance flavor if needed

      • Greek yogurt can also be delicious and healthy but typically is lower in calcium so I’ll save that for another day.

Final words of encouragement!

Incorporate basic menu planning strategies when you are planning lunches too. If your week is hectic, purchase ingredients that make life easier like dry and pre-packaged fresh ingredients. If you have a bit more breathing room one week, then go for the foods that require a bit more preparation. This will keep variety and flavor in your lunches and snacks.

Until next time, shop, eat and live well!

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