5 Must-Haves for Healthy School Lunches (that will actually get eaten)
September is upon us and with that comes the (dreaded) school lunch! Many moms look forward to the kids going back to school and the routine it brings to our family lives, but a lot of moms also loathe making daily lunches.
We all start off happy and optimistic, don’t we? Thinking we’ll become those “Pinterest-Moms,” cutting out fun shapes and writing cute notes…and then October hits and it’s the same sandwich every day.
No one wants to send that apple for its third round trip to school and back.
So how do we get our kids to actually eat a healthy lunch without losing our minds, and without buying packaged junk that we KNOW is unhealthy?
These five must-haves include some tips and tricks to get your kids eating their lunch and making sure it’s healthy. A win-win for both kids and parents!
Must-Have #1: Vegetables
Don’t stop reading! I know many of you are probably thinking I’m crazy but if you pack a vegetable every day (yes, even the first day of school), your kids will expect it to be there and are more likely to eat it. If you pop a vegetable in once a week or less, your kids will avoid it because eww (What is THAT doing in my LUNCH??). Choose a vegetable your child likes. Start small-baby carrots, celery, cucumber, peppers, snap peas…whatever vegetable your child will eat – go with it. And if it’s the same one every day, it doesn’t matter.
Tip: The easiest way to get kids to eat vegetables is with a dip. Try to avoid the mayonnaise or sour cream based dips and go for hummus or yogurt based dips (like tzatziki).
Must-Have #2: Fruit
Fruit seems like a no-brainer but like I mentioned before, I’ve seen some fruit go for multiple round-trips. Make sure it’s washed and ready to eat so they don’t have any work to do other than pop it in their mouths. I like to switch up the fruit because my kids are fans of berries, melon, grapes, apples, bananas…ok, they pretty much like all fruit. Once again, if your child doesn’t like many kinds of fruit, give them the one they DO like. And “fruit flavoured” snacks and juice don’t count.
Tip: Put some paper towel in the bottom of the container so the juice doesn’t drip all over their lunchbox. Also, using a popsicle stick, make a fruit kabob! Kids are way more likely to eat something if it’s on a stick (true story). If this is too Pinterest-y for you, add the stick and let them make it. Just be sure it’s not pointed; those can be dangerous for young kids.
Must-Have #3: Protein
Protein is important for kids to get a full stomach and remain full throughout the day, otherwise they’ll lose focus. Teachers will thank you for packing a protein loaded lunch for your kids every day! Protein comes in a variety of foods and doesn’t have to be just meat. Dairy items, beans, seeds, fish, quinoa, and many more. Make chili and blend in the beans if your kids are squeamish about them; have them help you make a quinoa salad and add their own toppings. Try something new – you never know what might be their new favourite.
Tip: Make-Your-Own Lunchbox. If your kids help make their lunch, they are more likely to eat it. If they choose what goes in, they can hardly complain. Also, if you include their favourite crackers, some cheese and meat, they can make their own mini sandwiches! Kids love to make their own.
Must-Have #4: Treats
Yes! Treats belong in the lunchbox! I’m not suggesting you buy packaged junk and throw it in their lunch every day. We don’t have dessert at lunch every day and kids don’t NEED to have a lot of sugar everyday at lunch. Homemade muffins can be a treat, healthy (nut-free of course) energy balls can be a treat (like this recipe for the energy balls pictured below), or even a special yogurt, unsweetened applesauce, or dry cereal. This is where you can switch it up and have fun! Save the really special treats for the occasional lunch.
Must-Have #5: Water
Kids need to drink water every day, all day long. They need water for their brains to function, they need water for their bodies to move. Send them to school with a full water bottle and talk to them about how important it is to actually drink it. Sometimes making the investment in a “fun” water bottle is worth it, just to know they’re going to drink it. If it needs to have a cartoon character on the side, so be it. If it needs to have a flippy-lid and swirly straw, okay. Just please make sure your kids are drinking water at school. Juice every day is unnecessary. I’m not evil, sometimes I put juice in my kids lunches, but it’s rare and it’s a treat. Water is the ultimate drink for growing children.
Tip: Milk programs are wonderful, but please choose white milk. Chocolate milk is full of completely avoidable sugar. At the very least, if they have chocolate milk, consider that their treat and make the rest of their lunch 100% healthy.
I understand that not every day is going to be perfect. It certainly isn’t in my house! To stay sane, you have to be realistic and do what works for your family. If that means ordering lunch from the school once a week, by all means, do it. Every family works differently and I would never pressure any Mom to do something that makes them uncomfortable or stressed. Keep your sanity by planning ahead and doing your best. In my house, that means my kids eat basically the same thing every day. I make a batch of muffins on Sunday night and they eat them all week. Leftovers frequently become lunch, and I have been known to throw in the occasional pancake.
Switch it up when you can, or keep it the same every day. Do what works. Ask for help when you need it. Support other moms and never be judgemental. We’re all here, doing what we can, trying to provide the best for our kids. Let’s help each other out!
Seanna Thomas is The Nutrionnaire, a nutritionist and food educator who offers 10% off her online programs to Healthy Moms cardholders. Seanna has an early bird bonus when you register before August 28! Find out more about her services here: https://gohealthymoms.com/the-nutritionnaire