Packing a healthy lunch for your children is a great way to get them the nutrients they need to power through the school day. Unfortunately, lunch boxes are often filled with packaged ‘convenience’ foods like full-calorie soda, chips, and cookies. This can add up to a lot of excess fat, sugar, sodium and calories that may contribute to long-term health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.These extra calories may also make kids sluggish or cranky in the afternoons.When deciding what to put in your child's lunch box, it's a good idea to include foods from different groups. Focusing on variety not only makes lunches more interesting, but also helps your children enjoy a balanced lunch that will provide the energy and nutrients they need to grow, play, learn and stay healthy.
Switch from bologna, salami, pastrami or corned beef, and other fatty luncheon meats to low-fat alternatives such as lean turkey or chicken breast.Use peanut butter in moderation: 2 tablespoons (about the size of a ping pong ball) provides about 190 calories and 16 grams of fatPack salt-free, dry-roasted almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts to provide kids with a dose of heart-healthy essential fatty acids--be sure to cap the serving at ¼ cup since nuts are high in calories.
Try a lowfat or light yogurt in exchange for the full calorie varieties targeted at children. If you’d prefer to avoid artificial sweeteners, try packing fat-free plain yogurt mixed with fresh fruit.
The taco salad shown would be a great, complete lunch, when served with a whole grain, fruit, and a drink.
Stay inspired by reading new recipes, trying new foods, and looking at other lunchbox posts online
Choose Whole Grains Whole grains
provide more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein than white, processed grains. Whole grains can be found in: Whole wheat breads, pita bread, brown rice, pasta, tortillas, cereal, crackers, popcorn, & pretzels.
Protein Go Lean with protein
Turkey, roast beef, chicken, seafood, eggs, soy products, beans and peas, nuts & seeds are great choices are all great protein choices
Ideas for incorporating protein: Egg
salad sandwiches Tuna salad with whole wheat crackers Meat and cheese kabobs Grilled chicken strips On a salad, or with a honey mustard sauce Peanut butter with apple slices Trail mix, with nuts & seeds Hot soup in a thermos
Vegetables Make half of the
lunch box fruits and vegetables Vegetables can be fresh, canned, frozen, dried, or in 100% juice form. Only 1 in 4 children eat the recommended 5 fruits and vegetables per day Pack a variety of colors!
Ideas for incorporating vegetables: Raw
vegetables with a fun dressing Hummus Low-fat or fat-free salad dressing Salads Vegetable soup in a thermos Add fresh vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, and lettuce to sandwiches and wraps Mix in diced cucumber or celery to tuna salad Add a tomato or corn & bean salsa to dip with whole wheat crackers
Fruit Any fruit or 100%
fruit juice counts as part of the Fruit Group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed. Enjoy a wide variety Shop seasonally
Ideas for incorporating fruit: Peanut
butter and sliced strawberry sandwich Make a tuna salad sandwich by mixing canned tuna with diced apples & a little bit of mayonnaise Slice up fruit, such as apples, into smaller pieces for easy eating Pack some peanut butter or low-fat/nonfat yogurt to dip fruit into Fruit kabobs
Ideas for incorporating dairy Yogurt
with granola & fruit on top Cheese & crackers (make your own Lunchables) Cheese & fruit kabobs Cottage cheese Skim or 1% milk Use a cookie cutter to make fun cheese shapes
Treats Aim to make snack
treats occasional rather than everyday items. Treats should be less than 150-200 calories and should not be high in fat, sugar, or sodium.
TreatsHealthier Options: Options to Limit:
Animal crackers Cake Pudding Cookies Jell-O Rice Krispie bars Oreos Fruit leather Brownies Squeezable Yogurt Little Debbie’s Dark chocolate squares Chips Whole grain Goldfish crackers Candy Yogurt-covered raisins
DrinksDrinks should be zero calorie
or have some nutritional content Healthy Ideas Include: Avoid sugary drinks such Fat free or Low-fat milk as: Sports drinks 100% fruit juice Water Energy drinks Sodas Lightly sweetened tea Fruit-flavored drinks
Sandwich Alternatives Soup w/ a
Breadstick Cold pasta salad Taco salad, burritos Dinner Leftovers Lasagna Chicken pot pie Casseroles Grilled chicken Cheese, meat, & crackers Taco Salad Lunch Breakfast for lunch Pancakes & sausage/eggs Cereal w/ a thermos of milk
Keep Cold Items Cold Include
ice packs or frozen gel packs Sandwiches, yogurt, & juice boxes can also be frozen before school and will be defrost and be cold by lunchtime Sandwiches with meat, eggs, dairy should be packed directly next to the cold source A frozen gel pack in an insulated lunch bag should keep the food cold until lunchtime. Optimum temperature for cold foods is 41 degrees F.
Keep hot items hot In
order to keep a thermos of chili or soup hot— Preheat the thermal container by putting boiling water in it first, letting it sit for a few minutes, then dump out the hot water The preheated container, when filled with hot soup or chili, will remain hot enough to prevent food borne illnesses all the way through the lunch hour.
Other Food Safety Tips Wash
hands before preparing the lunch Wash fruits & vegetables If including leftovers, make sure leftovers were refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking and were kept in the refrigerator overnight. If prepared the night before, store in refrigerator overnight Make sure your kids know to wash or sanitize their hands before eating their lunch Remind your kids to store their lunch away from direct sunlight or a heat source like a classroom radiator
Hints Buy a lunchbox
that is easy to use and that your child likes Include multiple colors and textures in the lunch Include condiments in the lunchbox Pack salad dressings in separate containers so salads don’t get soggy or mushy
Make it Appealing Use fun
napkins and toothpicks Include a hand-written note for your child Cut food (sandwiches, cheese) into fun shapes with cookie cutters Make it ―kid-sized‖ Cube cheese, meat, and fruit Cut up fruits and vegetables into bite-sized pieces Make sandwiches mini– cut into halves or fourths
Save Time! Create a healthy
lunch plan for the week and have all of those items on hand Pre-chop fruits and vegetables in the beginning of the week. Place food portions for meals in bags or containers ahead of time: things like crackers, fruits, cheese portions. Use frozen vegetables in a pinch if running low on fresh produce. Use left-overs from the night before. Make lunch while you are making another meal
You Can Do It! Remember:
The main elements needed to create healthy lunch day in and day out are: Preparation Organization Thoughtful approach Creativity Find out what works for you and stick with it. Stay inspired