by Adriane Angarano MS, CN
Back-to-school season is in full swing. Our weekday mornings are back to being super busy and sometimes downright hectic. The thought of packing a healthy lunch can often feel daunting or nearly impossible, especially if we haven’t planned ahead. This is when we ‘re inclined to turn toward the less-healthy convenience items as a quick solution. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are some easy tips for putting together nourishing lunches that appeal to all tastes with a minimum amount of time. These ideas are great not only for kids going off to school, but your homeschooled kiddos, and any loved one heading off to work.
Step 1. Make a plan
Planning out meals, especially school lunches, has so many benefits. First, it saves you time. During one small chunk of time you organize the entire week (or month) saving time spent figuring out what to make on a day-by-day basis. You will also reduce trips to the grocery store having created a shopping list from your plan. Second, you will save money. Creating a shopping list reduces the chances of frivolous spending and may inspire you to check out sales or clip coupons. You will also save on gas with less trips to the grocery store. Lastly, meal planning promotes healthy eating. By thinking ahead of what will go in the lunchbox, you have more control over the ingredients and will most likely end up with more healthful and nutritious foods.
Step 2. Know your healthy go-to foods
Even if you don’t get to meal planning this week, having a master list of your kids’ favorite lunch items and healthy additions will save you some time (and stress) on those busy mornings. For creating that go-to list, consider the basic categories for a well-balanced lunch:
-nut or seed butters (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower butter, pumpkin seed butter)
-hard boiled egg
-lentil, bean, or chicken soup
-hummus or bean dip
-sandwich or wrap
-dinner leftovers (meatloaf, roasted chicken, etc.)
-jerky (fish or meat)
b. Fruit & Vegetables:
-dippable fruit and veggies with hummus, guacamole, dressing, yogurt
-smoothies in a thermos
-salad with dressing
-fresh fruit kebobs
-veggie sushi rolls
c. Water: Just skip the juice box. Yes it may be one of the easiest parts of packing the lunch box, but it only leads to is extra sugar that children simply do not need. Instead, try a reusable water bottle filled with cold water (add a little lemon if they like tart). This is also another way to save time and money (no more buying extra juice boxes).
d. Add a little treat:
-fruit and veggie muffin
-homemade fruit & nut (or seed) bars
-trail mix with dried fruit
-chia fruit pudding
Step 3. Get the kids involved
Getting the kids involved in meal prep has many rewards. It is a great way to spark their curiosity in new foods and it also helps them to feel empowered by taking part in their own health. It’s great to start this process with them at a young age. For example, create a check-off list for your kindergartener or first grader and it could look similar to this:
Lunch Box Checklist:
- Sandwich, Pasta, or Soup
- 1 fruit
- 1 vegetable
- String cheese or yogurt
- 1 treat- muffin, granola bar, dried fruit
- Fill water bottle
Step 4. Keep it simple
Planning and packing a healthy lunch box does not have to be complicated. Step 3 discussed the basic components of a wholesome lunch. Remember to focus on fresh, whole food ingredients that can be put together simply and you’ll have the easiest time getting your kids off to school.
The Environmental Working Group, the nation’s leading environmental health research and advocacy organization, offers up some good information and helpful tips. Their guidelines are great for reducing your child’s toxic exposure while lessening the impact on the environment.
For more allergen-friendly go-to ideas, check out these two blogs: