Lunch is such an important part of a child’s day. After a long morning of classes and playing, their body needs re-energizing. Like many of you, I pack lunches for kids on a daily basis. Sometimes, options are limited and lunches get boring. But I always stick to this rule of thumb when making a lunch:
1 whole grain item (this can be the bread on a sandwich or granola bar)
lean meat or protein
1 healthy snack
1 small treat
Let’s start with the fruit. It is such an important part of a child’s diet because of the natural energy that is inside. Fruit is sweet which can be a healthy alternative to cookies and candy when kids have a sweet tooth.
apples, bananas, grapes, watermelon, berries, oranges, kiwi’s, mango
Dried fruit is a healthy switch from greasy potato chips.
Many fruits can be accompanied with dips like peanut butter, cream cheese dip, and others to make them more delicious.
One of the most neglected pieces of the food pyramid is vegetables. Kids need them!!! Now it is probably best to keep the brussel sprouts at home but here are some fun ways to incorporate veggies into meals:
ants on a log: celery sticks topped with peanut butter and little raisin (or chocolate chip) ants
carrots and dip
hide veggies in their sandwiches
make a veggie pizza on whole grain english muffins
I grew up on Wonder White Bread and it was delicious…but not as wonderfully nutritious as I thought. White bread is just processed starch which 1) has no nutritional value 2) doesn’t keep you full and 3) doesn’t provide the energy needed when running around on the playground. I highly recommend switching as many carbs to whole grain as possible. Stores have whole grain bread, waffles, english muffins, bagels, pizza dough, and more..most are the same price as their processed counterparts.
A sandwich a day is boring! Mix it up by making a wrap with a tortilla, or serving english muffin pizzas. Kids will appreciate change!
If your child likes salads, give them a whole grain granola bar or oatmeal cookie to make sure they have healthy carbs.
Lean meats and protein! These are vital to keeping your little ones energized and focused.
I use left over chicken, ham and beef from dinners in lunches to minimize lunch meat usage. Lunch meat is high in salt and fat.
Hard boiled eggs, cheese, nut butters, yogurt, raw nuts and lean meats are all examples of protein packed foods.
Healthy snacks vary depending on what is already in the child’s lunch. Trail mix, granola bars, rice cakes, yogurt, pretzels and nuts are always on hand at our house. They are easy to eat on the go and have protein, carbs and energy. The snack rounds out the food pyramid. If I give the child a sandwich, I will try to stay away from more carbs and go for a dairy product or nut. If they have a lot of fruits and veggies that day, I will give them crackers or pretzels.
Some may disagree with me, but I think it is fine to give children a little treat a couple times a week. By little treat I mean fruit snacks, a cookie, 1 piece of candy etc. One family I work for only allows “junk food” on Fridays. Not only do the kids overdose on sweets on Friday, but they try EVERYTHING to get their hands on sweets during the week since their body craves it. Then they actually eat more sweets than originally intended. I am not personally a fan of this but it is the family rules, so what they say goes. Where a small treat goes awry is when meals are comprised of fats, sugars, empty carbs and topped off with a treat. In those cases, children lose all nutrition and start to crave junk.
As long as everything is consumed in moderation, children will grow up happy and healthy!