Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas
Children who eat nutritious foods do better in school, but coming up with healthy back-to-school lunch ideas that children will actually eat can be a challenge for many parents.
A healthy school lunch combines nutrient-rich foods from several food groups to supply protein, fat and carbohydrates to sustain energy and concentration for several hours. The composition of the meal makes a difference in how long it will sustain a child throughout the day.
A balanced meal consisting of carbohydrate, protein and fat gives children energy and prevents a drop in blood sugar for several hours. In general, a meal including a variety of foods from several food groups will provide the most benefits to a child, educationally, nutritionally and physically. A balanced meal that keeps a child energized throughout the day can be a quick and easy meal -- at home, at school or on the go.
Healthy Lunchbox Ideas
Foods like fruit, bread, crackers and juice provide carbohydrates, while milk, cheese, yogurt, lean meat and beans provide protein to balance kids’ meals. Fat is found in nuts, peanut butter, meat and some dairy foods. Providing children a balance and variety of these foods will ensure they are well-nourished and energized for learning.
Our printable Tips for a Healthy Lunchbox offers ideas for healthy foods to include in kids’ lunches.
The key is to balance nutrition with your child’s personal taste by getting him/her involved in the back-to-school lunch preparation process to reduce food waste.
When your children are involved in the planning process they'll be more likely to eat what is prepared. Children who help select and prepare their meals are more likely to actually eat them.
It’s a simple and effective way to make sure your children get the energy they need to learn and the nutrition that keeps them healthy. It will also be easier to get help with the meal preparation and clean up process if their food preferences are considered.
More Healthy Lunch Ideas
Lunch should contain food from all five main food groups: breads, fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy products. Many children do not like sandwiches for lunch, so including some variety in the menu can prevent children from getting bored with their lunch and will prevent them from straying to the vending machine or snack bar. Some sandwich alternatives are:
- Chicken tenders
- Pasta salads
- Bean salads
- Hard boiled eggs
- Trail mix
- Crackers with cheese or peanut butter
- Hummus and pita flatbread
- Sliced veggies with yogurt dip
Warm Lunch Ideas
- Soup sent in a Thermos®
- Rice bowls (rice topped with last night’s leftover meat and vegetables)
- Macaroni and cheese
- Pasta noodles
Keep Lunch Food Safe
It is important to practice safe food handling when packing a school lunch. If lunches are not refrigerated, after about two hours the food can begin to grow harmful bacteria that cause food borne illnesses. You can keep lunches cold by sending a frozen 100 percent juice box or ice pack in an insulated lunch box to keep contents cold until lunchtime.
If you’re too busy to prepare lunch you may want to take advantage of your school’s cafeteria. The school lunch is another nutritious and economical option for families. Take a look at the school lunch menu with your child and decide which days your child would like to eat the school meal. Remember, getting their input is always important when you want them to actually eat the meal.
Reprinted with the permission of Meals Matter. © 2008 Meals Matter
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