Whether you are new to packing lunches or have been doing it for years, the lunch routine can be a challenging one. As the frenzy of early September dies down, now is the perfect time to assess your lunch strategy and explore ways of making things easier and even more nourishing. The golden rule of effortless lunches is to really plan ahead. Find a calm time to assess the contents of your fridge and what you plan on preparing during the week, and then make a shopping list. Write your meal plan out on the calendar and you will never struggle to remember your menu!
It is also critically important to talk to your kids about lunches. Do your kids like hot lunches? You can batch cook soups and stews and freeze them in individual portions. Or, cook extra dinner and serve leftovers for lunch – it is the ultimate effortless lunch. Do kids prefer sandwiches or snack type lunches? Having these conversations allows kids to feel involved and makes them more likely to eat what is served.
In terms of health, it is important to ensure that any lunch box (including your own!) is well balanced. The right mix of foods will help fuel their growing bodies and keep kids focused during the school day.
Take a peek inside a balanced lunch box:
1. Two or three fruits and vegetables
Why are fruits and vegetables so important? Fruits and vegetables supply phytonutrients that are an investment in your child’s long-term health, in addition to tummy-soothing fibre. The vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables support the immune system, strong bones, and a healthy heart. Cultivating a taste for veggies now will help foster a love of healthy food for life.
How to make it fun: use cookie cutters, vegetable peelers or special slicers to switch up shapes and textures. Add nourishing dips like pumpkin seed butter, hummus, white bean, or Greek yogurt dips.
2. One protein food
It can be easy to forget the protein component, especially in a nut-free school. Here is why you shouldn’t: protein slows down the burn of carbohydrates for long lasting energy and it fuels healthy immune systems and overall growth.
There are plenty of easy, kid-friendly protein choices: leftover baked tofu or veggie sausages, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, bean dips, or cheese cut into cubes or sticks.
3. One or two whole grain choices
Children need a lot of energy to learn and grow and play; whole grains offer carbohydrates, the energy currency in the body, to fuel their daily activities. Whole grains come with their natural nutrition intact: healthy fats, minerals and fibre.
Great choices include sprouted grain breads and wraps, whole grain cereals (perfect in a lunchtime parfait with fruit), leftover brown rice, pasta or quinoa, healthy homemade baked goods, or a crispy rice bar.
So, how do you get your kids to eat all of this healthy stuff?
Well, you might be surprised at how healthy their appetites are. As parents, we tend to let our own perspectives on food choice colour what we feed our children. Many children will happily eat plain yogurt while most adults pucker at the thought.
One key to a successful lunch box is giving children some autonomy in choosing their lunch bites. It takes a bit of extra work but it may help ensure that lunches are getting into hungry bellies. However, it is still up to you, the parent, to choose what types of foods are offered. For example, you could show younger children two different fruits and allow them to choose one for their lunch. For older children, you could let them know that they need to select one fruit and one vegetable from the fridge and then let them prepare it in fun shapes for their lunch box.
Creating variety and interest can be as easy as switching a sandwich to a wrap or swapping the usual muffin for a crispy rice bar. As a parent, modeling great eating habits is a sure way to foster the same in your kids. If your children see you packing lunch for yourself, they will understand its importance in a healthy life. Packing lunches may always be a bit of a chore…but with a few tricks of the trade, you can make it a simpler one!