By Shani Mara Breiter, RDN
Summer is almost over and it’s time to get organized for the school year. Sending school lunch from home gives your child the best chance to be well nourished with fresh, whole foods. Kids enjoy school lunches that have balance, variety and include a little surprise treat that hits the spot. This allows the child not to feel deprived when friends bring less nutritious food in their lunch. Here are 6 tips to help you build a balanced school lunch box.
Tip 1: Add a healthy fat. Healthy fats provide energy, build brains, helps the body use vitamins and provide energy. Do your kids like nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, walnuts or pecans? What about avocado or guacamole? If you have a teen who likes a salad, provide a quality vinaigrette dressing with avocado or nuts.
Tip 2: Provide a protein. Protein will help keep your child satisfied longer by keeping blood sugars steady longer. Consider giving 2-4 ounces of protein, depending on the age of your child. Examples include roasted chicken or turkey, egg salad, chicken salad, hardboiled egg, smoked salmon or cheese. Leftovers from the night before work great when combined with a starch or grain in a thermos. The protein can be in a container, in a sandwich or wrap or served with crackers.
Tip 3: Give a starch or grain. Choose a half of a pita or whole grain bread for a sandwich. Try a tortilla or lavosh bread for a wrap. As another option, provide a small container of rice, pasta , quinoa, whole grain crackers or leftovers from the night before. Try cutting a wrap sandwich made from tortilla or lavosh bread into smaller slices that look like pinwheels. To keep your sandwich cool, try freezing your bread in an air tight bag overnight. Make the sandwich in the morning using the frozen bread. By lunchtime, the sandwich will be a perfect temperature. Lunches often have multiple processed grain items. A key to crafting a balanced lunch is to move away from packing multiple processed grains such as sugar filled granola bars, snack bars, gummy fruit chews and instead give more fresh, whole, unprocessed foods.
Tip 4: Include fresh vegetables and fruits. Try melon, apples, tangerines, berries or grapes. For a variety of vegetables, try including a seaweed snack pack, a few olives, sugar snap peas, a few sweet baby tomatoes, carrots, Persian cucumbers or a pickle. To entice your kids to eat vegetables, include a small amount of ranch dressing, guacamole or hummus for dipping. Small containers with a variety of foods are fun for kids to eat.
Tip 5: Make school lunch fun with a small treat a few times a week. Let’s be realistic. Kids love treats. In a mini salad dressing size container, add a piece of chocolate, a couple of chocolate covered almonds or raisins or a couple of small cookies. Denying fun foods makes your kids crave them more, therefore give a small amount as part of a balanced and realistic approach to packing lunch.
Tip 6: The best drink to provide is water. Water helps your child stay well hydrated throughout the day. Avoid giving sugar in liquid form such as punch, lemonade, fruit juice and squeeze yogurts.
Bonus tip: Preplanning and preparing for you the parent is key to serving nourishing lunches. Although it’s easy to buy packaged, processed grain-based snacks to fill up a lunch, your kids will benefit by limiting these foods and balancing their lunches with whole fresh foods.
Shani Mara Breiter, RDN is the leading nutritionist for families, kids and teens. Shani offers a family centered nutrition program along with individualized sessions both virtually and in person at her Beverly Hills and Encino offices in Los Angeles. Learn more about Shani at shanimara.com.