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Give Your Kids the Edge: Healthy School Lunches
Written by Dr. Kellyann Petrucci
It’s hard to believe summer’s over and it’s already back-to-school season. For a lot of us, that means a return to busy mornings of getting the kids ready and out the door on time. And then there will be evenings of trying to ensure the homework gets done and bedtime happens at a decent hour.
With all of that going on, no one has much time to devote to packing healthy lunches!
So of course it’s tempting to take the quick and easy route: just jam some Snackables, Gogurts, and a candy bar into a bag and call it done. But if you do that, you may be stealing your kids focus and energy for the day, not to mention their long-term health.
Believe me, as a working mother of two boys, I understand the challenges of keeping things healthy. I know it can seem like preparing healthier lunches would take too much time and effort. But it doesn’t have to.
And I’m going to prove it by giving you some simple tips, so you don’t have to sacrifice your kiddos’ health for the sake of convenience!
Why Packing a Healthy Lunch is So Important
Many studies have shown that unhealthy fats, added sugar, sugary carbs, and packaged foods and snacks are robbing kids of essential vitamins and minerals they need for growth and development. Obesity and malnutrition often follow, but even scarier—childhood diabetes!
We used to see Type 2 diabetes only in adults, but now it’s trickling over to our youth.
The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine estimates that “more than 40,000 US children have Type 2 diabetes (diabetes brought on by obesity), and another 2.8 million kids have impaired blood sugars, meaning these kids are in a ‘pre-diabetes’ state, possibly headed for diabetes in the future.”
For starters, pack “smart” school lunches.
Not only will nutritious, whole food, non-processed lunches help combat the onset of diabetes, they’ll also help your kids function better everyday, with more consistent energy and brain power!
So let’s look at some easy ways to give your kids a great lunch.
Begin with a Bento
Bento Boxes are a fun addition to any kid’s routine.
Not familiar with a Bento Box? It’s basically a lunchbox with compartments.
Why do kids love them? Well, do you remember when you were a kid and you’d open your lunch box only to find that your fruit had slid into your chicken? Strawberries shouldn’t taste like chicken, should they? When they do, most kids mutter a big “yuck!” and throw the whole thing out.
Compartments are the answer! Bento-style boxes help to keep food organized, fresh, and appetizing. For most kids, that’s a big deal. This also makes it a lot easier to add variety.
And as an added bonus, Bento-style boxes are usually made from sleek stainless steel, so you’re not exposing the food to the many toxins found in plastic lunch containers/
Protein builds, maintains, and replaces just about every tissue in the body. Plus, protein-rich foods help children be more alert and focused all day long. So I always reserve a compartment in my boys’ bento lunch boxes for some type of protein.
Here are some great protein lunch solutions courtesy of Audrey Olson, Paleo blogger and author of Primal Kitchen: A Family Grokumentary:
Meat leftovers, such as chicken drumsticks, roast beef, or meatballs
Preservative-free and nitrate-free organic lunch meats
Liverwurst from pastured animals (try a braunschweiger, which is liverwurst with bacon added)
A stainless steel thermos of beef stew, Paleo chili, or spaghetti squash topped with a ground meat Bolognese sauce
Egg muffins or mini quiches without the crust
Smoked or canned wild salmon
Canned tuna in water (watch out for sneaky added ingredients like vegetable oils)
Also Add Healthy Fats
When you eat good-for-you fats, your blood sugar stabilizes, and you stay full longer. So adding healthy fats to a lunch is one of the best ways to keep kids satisfied in the hunger department while they’re at school. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to do this. Even if your child is a picky eater, some of these options are sure to get their approval:
Raw, unsweetened nut butters
Homemade salad dressings and dips using Paleo oils
Coconut milk in some tea (for the older kids)
Avocados or guacamole
Crumbled bacon to top salads or hearty leftovers such as soup
Coconut meat or chips
Paleo Lunch-Packing: The Three Important Sources
Now I want to share some great packing tips—again, thanks to Audrey Olson. When it comes to packing a Paleo lunch with ease, you need to be able to pull from three sources:
Make double for dinner. Then you’ll always have at least a day’s worth to pack for lunch. Decide ahead of time which nights meal will become the next day’s lunch. This makes menu and grocery planning a lot easier.
2. Fresh To-Go Options:
Precut veggies and fruit. Buy snack packs or cut them yourself and pack them in portion-sized containers.
Buy single-serve store-bought packets of guacamole.
Make a week’s worth of Paleo quiches and egg muffins that you can easily grab and pack.
Pre-boil eggs for a fast protein option available throughout the entire week.
Pack chicken, egg, or tuna salad (made with a Paleo-friendly mayo) in individual containers or stuffed into peppers.
Make DIY dehydrated veggie chips.
Put together small premade containers of homemade trail mix with nuts, coconut flakes, dried fruit, and so on.
Consider Jerky. Grass-fed beef jerky in particular makes a great option for high-quality protein you can toss into a lunchbox when you run out of everything else.
Keep individual packets of raw, unsweetened nut butters handy.
Pick up dried fruits such as banana chips. (But be on the lookout for added sugars, preservatives, and so on.)
One more thing: When packing a lunch, don’t forget that kids, especially younger ones, taste with their eyes first. So creating visual appeal by creating lunches that have a variety of colors can go a long way toward whetting their appetites.
What If Your Kid Buys School Lunch?
We all know that what gets offered at the school cafeteria is notoriously bad. So it’s best to pack lunch whenever possible. But if you have an older child who’s determined to buy, (I know my boys were as they got older) your best bet is to educate them. Remember, making healthy food choices starts at home!
So teach your kids the importance of eating healthy proteins, carbs, and fats. Give them examples of a good meal (salmon, asparagus, and a sweet potato, for example) and a bad meal (French fries, and a candy bar).
Then check in with them about what food options they encountered in the lunchroom and what choices they made. Without nagging or criticizing, congratulate them on their good decisions (“Great job on choosing an apple over that cookie!”) or suggest improvements in an encouraging way (“I know how hard it is to resist potato chips! You could try a handful of nuts instead—a lot of times that does the trick for me and leaves me feeling much better.”).
Finally, Something Every Kid Should Hear
One of the biggest things making today’s kids obese and less healthy than they should be is overconsumption of sugar-filled drinks. And artificially sweetened drinks aren’t any safer.
So whether you’re packing your kid’s lunches or trying to get them to make better purchasing decisions at school, you need to tell them this:
Skip the soda and drink plenty of water throughout the day!
Learning to do this from an early age will dramatically improve their odds for a lifetime of good health.
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