Healthy School Lunches for Kids
Posted by Jillian Rieckmann
A month into the new fall routine, I start to notice lunch time around my daughters daycare change. What started the year off well, as I snooped at what some of the kids were eating, has totally gone downhill. I observe kids eating pizza, pizza pops, microwavable mac and cheese, sugary juices, fruit snacks, etc. followed soon after by temper tantrums, lack of listening skills, lack of concentration and an energy crash. It is no wonder that childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last 20 years and that the health of many of today’s children is poor. Being a busy mom myself,
I understand the need to have easy to pack meals for the kids and wanting to pack food that they will actually eat, so I have come up with a few simple tips for making easy to pack, healthy snacks and lunches for your kids, or maybe even yourself.
First off, pre-packaged food isn’t always bad. The most important thing to remember when buying pre-packaged food is to watch that sodium levels are not too high and sugar should always be below 4 g. The fewer ingredients on the list the better and if you cannot read an ingredient, don’t buy it. Organic pre-packaged food can be misleading too, when it comes to pre-packaged food always check the labels, some organic varieties can be just as bad or worse for sodium and sugar levels. I would only recommend having one-two packaged foods in the lunch kit and having the rest be fresh. For example yogurt (watch for sugars and dyes), whole grain crackers, granola bars, etc.
I recommend packing one-2 fruits in the lunch and lots of veggies. Pack ones you know your kids will like. Kids like dipping things so add a container filled with low fat plain Greek yogurt w/ cinnamon for fruit. Hummus, tzaziki, cream cheese, salsa or seed butters are perfect for veggies. I like to leave notes on my daughters banana peel with a sharpie “I love you”, a little poem etc. which she thinks is pretty cool and always looks forward to.
Plain Greek yogurt is such a great treat for kid’s lunches. The flavoured varieties contain a lot of sugar, so stick to plain and add cinnamon, your own fruit, seeds, granola, or honey on top. Greek yogurt is good because it is high in protein and will keep your little ones tummy full and nourished and is low in sugar and fat.
Make your own “lunchables” using lunch meat (organic if possible), wholegrain crackers, cheese, and a veggie of choice, put in a divided container and voila. My daughter likes slices cucumber because it fits nicely on the cracker.
Sandwiches can get a little boring, so I like to mix up the meat each week or even just the bread. Remember to always use whole grains, if possible. Another fun trick is to pick up some large cookie cutters and cut the sandwich into a fun shape. Kids want to keep it fresh and exciting and are more likely to gobble it up when it is.
Make your own trail mix. Since most schools are nut free, you can make your own trail mix for your kids using high fibre, low sugar cereals, pretzels, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and dried fruit. Just hit up the bulk bins, get a large Tupperware container and shake up.
Pack a reusable water bottle in their lunch kits every day.
Let your kids help make their lunches or help choose what goes into them. When kids take part in prepping process they learn healthy habits and are more likely to eat what they have made. If your child is a picky eater, you can reward healthy choices with a sticker or a stamp in their lunch kit with a note saying how proud you were of them for making good, healthy choices.
Last but not least, the best way to teach our kids healthy habits is to be a good role model. If your kids see you eating junk, they will want it too. Make it a family affair to eat healthy and be active. Making healthy meals a priority is so important to your child’s overall health and development and doesn’t take any extra time as long as you plan well. Hope these tips can give you and your family some added help
on a balanced nutrition program for your hectic lifestyle.
I’ve included this nut free, easy to make muffin recipe that you and your kids can make together and toss in the freezer for an easy to grab quick snack for their lunch kits…
Lunch Box Muffins (NUT FREE)
1 1/2 cups 1% milk
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 tbsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp ground flax seed (if desired)
3tbsp wheat bran (if desired)
10 slices multigrain bread (cubed)
1 cup frozen berries
TOPPING: Flax/pumpkin/sunflower seeds for top (if desired)
In a bowl, whisk together all ingredients , except bread and berries, until well combined. Add cubed bread and toss gently until the egg mixture is absorbed. Add berries and toss gently to combine.
Divide muffin mixture evenly into a greased muffin tin. Bake in the centre of a preheated 375°F (190°C) oven for 20 mins, then add sunflower seeds/pumpkin seeds/flax seeds to top and bake for an extra five minutes. ( 25 min total). Cool completely then wrap individually in plastic wrap and store in a container to freeze. To reheat frozen muffins, remove plastic wrap and place in microwave on defrost for 1 min or pop in the lunch kit and it will be defrosted just in time for lunch break.