The first day of school is right around the corner. Back to carpools, new backpacks, school supplies and of course the new lunch box. What are you going to pack in that lunchbox this year? Kids need a healthy, fun and nutritious lunch to reach their full potential.
Would an Olympic athlete or an esteemed scientist pack cookies, pop or cheese puffs in their school lunch? I doubt either would be able to perform at their peak with those items.
The same is true about our children. We send our kids off to school after a sugary cereal breakfast, toaster pastry and 8 ounce glass of orange juice (The OJ alone has 22 grams of sugar). It’s time to rethink lunches and set the kids up with smart lunches to be smart students.
To get kids to enjoy healthy meals, we need to make it fun: Full of natural colors, think berries, fruit and cheese; unprocessed foods, avoiding packed chips, fruit snacks and juice boxes; natural and nutritious, a small treat is fine but make sure most of the lunch is serving your child.
The more healthy and nutritious foods you pack in your child’s lunch, the less room there is for junk and sugar. It’s not about taking away foods but adding in more good and nutritious foods to crowd out the bad.
Make sure you avoid these highly processed and non-nutritious items:
•Fruit snacks. Although the box says “Fat Free” or made with real juice, what they are really saying is “full of sugar”. Fruit snacks should be treated as a treat not a fruit or mistaken for anything healthy.
•Pop, soda, juice boxes and juice pouches. Just pack water. Kids don’t need all of this sugar in the middle of their day while trying to stay focused at school.
•Cookies, pastry snacks and most prepackaged items in the cookie isle. Especially avoid those 100-calorie packs…this is another term for full of sugar.
•Fruit cups stored in juice and added or artificial sugar. Go for a fruit cup packed in water, or better yet a piece of fresh fruit.
So you might be wondering, what can I pack?
Here are some great ideas for fun, healthy and edible back-to-school lunches.
•Sandwich with whole wheat or Gluten-free bread. Add turkey (look for something organic without nitrates), cheese (again unprocessed, no plastic wrapped single slices) and mayo, butter or avocado slices. Don’t be afraid of healthy fats, kids need these for more brain power.
•Tortilla rolled up with almond butter and a banana in the middle
•Chicken or tuna salad with rice crackers for dipping
•Sliced veggies or fruits. Add to a small kid friendly skewer for a kabob effect.
•Lara Bars or other protein bars, just be sure to note the sugar content and avoid bars with added sugar. You can even make your own healthy protein bars at home.
•Air popped popcorn
If you have a picky eater get them involved by helping you make and pack their lunch the night before. Fun lunchboxes, separated bento boxes, soup thermoses and water bottles will also help.
Emily Countryman is a board certified health coach. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her health column runs monthly.