As a mom, do you dread packing lunches for school? With a twelve and eight year old, I understand the challenge of trying to pack a lunch for kids who are less than enthusiastic about raw vegetables in their lunch. So how do you provide quick healthy school lunches without grossing out your kids and wasting food that gets thrown in the trash?
How a healthy lunch should look
To get started, follow the “Healthy Plate Design” and eliminate as many package products as possible. Think about your child’s lunch containing a fruit, vegetable, healthy grain, protein, and dairy. If using this as a guideline, it then becomes a matter of filling in the blank.
In addition to healthy options, remember that balance and portion control is the key. As I am writing this today, my eight your old son reminds me to tell you that sugar is a “sometimes food” and can be eaten in moderation. Think about portion and teaching your kids how to eat responsibly as opposed to eliminating sweets all together which leads to failure. So yes, I provide a small treat each day in their lunch such as one cookie in place of a whole bag. Keep snack bags on hand and take charge of the portion instead of allowing someone else to package them.
Here is how a healthy plate design may look.
Lunch 1-Healthy Sandwich
Fruit – fresh strawberries
Vegetable – cut up cucumbers
Grain and protein – peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat sandwich round
Dairy and protein – yogurt (look for those under 12 grams of sugar) or stick cheese
Treat in healthy portion – 1-2 of a favorite cookie in a snack size bag
To change it up, switch out bread with a your favorite whole wheat bread or low carb wrap such as Missions low carb tortilla (my favorite) with fresh deli meat in place of pre-packaged meat. Or omit bread all together and make your own luncheable.
Lunch 2 – Homemade Luncheable
Fruit – cuties or halos (small oranges)
Vegetable – raw carrots and dip
Grain and protein – deli turkey roll with whole wheat crackers or pretzels
Dairy and protein – stick cheese
Treat in healthy portion – one Hershey kiss with a graham cracker
How to add variety
I don’t know about you, but after a few days, things can get pretty boring, even if you have one kid like mine, who says he wants the same thing every day.
To change it up, plan one night time meal a week that could be converted in a school lunch for the week. For example: Turkey tacos or chicken fajitas are a great leftover and easy to make healthy and quick for lunch.
Lunch 3 – Turkey/Chicken Tacos
Fruit – fresh pineapple or apple
Vegetable – green leaf lettuce
Grain and protein – chicken or turkey tacos in a low carb tortilla with salsa
Dairy and protein – shredded cheese
Treat in healthy portion – tortilla chips in snack bag
Lunch 4 –Turkey/Chicken Taco Salad
Fruit – kids choice
Vegetable – large green leaf salad, tomato (optional)
Protein – chicken or turkey taco meat, black beans, avocado with salsa on side for dressing
Dairy and protein – shredded cheese and yogurt
Treat in healthy portion – tortilla chips in snack bag to sprinkle on salad
How to make it quick and easy?
A lack of preparation and team work can make lunches unbearable and impossible not to mention the chaos that happens in the process. To make the mornings go much smoother, I have learned a few tricks or the trade that are a must.
1. Cut up all fruit at the beginning of the week and bag snacks in snack size bags for portion control and quick access in the mornings.
2. Do what you can the night before.
- Get out lunch kits
- Make anything that can be stored in refrigerator
- Put all cold items together in refrigerator for quick access
3. Gets kids to help in the process
- Put kids in charge of one item every day as their responsibility (ie, fruit, special treat, etc). I have discovered that my kindergartner was able to handle this responsibility. They may be more likely to eat it if they have packed it.
- Ensure each child unpacks and cleans out lunch bag on their own each day
- Have each child responsible for his/her drink. I recommend water or Crystal Lite and avoid bottle or packed juices to cut down on cost and calories. Use a box drink as an occasional treat.
By developing just a couple of habits such as following the healthy plate design and doing what you can the night before, you and your kids may discover your own fresh ideas. Don’t let this year be a year that starts off healthy and quickly goes out of the door with pure exhaustion. With just a little preparation and team work, your kids can have a healthy lunch that they enjoy.