The new school year is well underway, and that means it’s time for parents to start packing lunches again. While creating lunch menus can feel like a chore, parents should avoid the temptation to just toss anything available into the lunchbox. After all, you want your kids to eat a nutritious meal. But how can you put something together that is also quick and easy?
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children aged two years and up follow a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of protein foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat and fat-free dairy products, and oils. The guidelines recommend that children limit their intake of calories from added sugars, sodium, and solid fats.
The benefits of a healthy diet include maintaining healthy body weight, improved academic performance, and reduced risk of developing serious health conditions. So, how do you pack a healthy lunch for school that your kids will actually want to eat? Here are some helpful tips.
Stock Your Fridge with Healthy Foods
If you have too much unhealthy food lying around, it can be too much of a temptation for you and your kids to consume them. So, packing healthy lunches starts with what you purchase at your local grocery store. Fortunately, your neighborhood grocer is going to make it easy to buy nutritious and delicious-tasting food.
When you go shopping, start reading the Nutrition Facts Label on the foods you want to buy. These labels are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They will tell you important information, such as how many calories and nutrients are in a single serving as well as the % of the Daily Value of certain items, like calcium or Vitamin D.
Include Plenty of Protein
Protein food sources are not only good for your child, but they also help them feel fuller for longer. This can carry them through the day without the need to include additional snacks, which might be unhealthy.
Remember, there are more protein options than just meat. So, even if you include a deli sandwich in your child’s lunch, you can supplement that with something like a cheese stick, some milk, or a small container of yogurt. Here are some protein-rich foods you can use as staples for your child’s nutritious lunch:
- 1 oz of poultry, meat, or seafood
- 1 yogurt cup
- 1 egg
- ½ oz of nuts (peanuts, almonds, trail mix)
- 6-8 oz milk
- 1 granola bar
- 1 oz cheese
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
Add Some Whole Grains
You also want to ensure that your child has at least one serving of whole grains in their lunch. These are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which will also help them stay full longer. When you are looking at grains, it’s recommended that at least 50% of your child’s intake be whole grains instead of refined grains like white bread. Here are some excellent options:
- 1 slice of whole wheat bread
- ½ cup brown rice
- 5 whole grain crackers
- 1 cup whole grain cereal
- ½ cup whole grain pasta
- 3 cups of popcorn
Don’t Forget Fruits & Veggies
It’s also essential that your child’s healthy lunch includes some fruits and vegetables. Try to pack at least one serving of each. The veggies can be part of a sandwich or on their own. Likewise, the fruit can be considered a sweet dessert. Here are some options:
- 1 medium banana
- 1 small apple
- 1 mandarin orange
- ¼ cup dried fruit
- 1 cup berries, grapes, or melon
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 cup cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, or celery
- 1 cup spinach or lettuce
- 1 cup 100% fruit juice
Make it Fun
Now that you know how to make a well-rounded and nutritious school lunch, how can you make sure your child will eat it? Here are a few ideas:
- Get your child involved — Ask your child what they want to be included in their lunch and involve them in the preparation.
- Use fun containers — Let your child pick out a favorite lunchbox at the store or even make their own, so they are excited about carrying it to school and using it every day.
- Mix it up — Avoid packing the same thing day after day. Create enough variety so that your child won’t get bored with their meals.
- Make it interesting — Try using foods with different colors or cutting sandwiches, fruits, and veggies into fun shapes to keep things interesting.
Shop for Healthy Lunch Items at Nick’s of Calvert
If you want to pack your children’s lunch with healthy food and snack items, make sure you visit Nick’s of Calvert. For over 50 years, our family-run business has been devoted to serving the needs of its local Southern Maryland customers.
We are a unique and ideal alternative to large chain stores, with full-service deli and meat departments and high-quality customer service. Visit us or give us a call today at (410) 414-7105.