Packing lunches can be a challenging feat. How do we ensure that our kids get a balanced meal that supports their energy needs so they can learn and play? There are a few things to consider: Try to represent most of the food groups and rotate food optoins to promote variety and prevent boredom, keep perishables cold and solicit some ideas from your kids.
Packing lunches can keep line with Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility (DOR) for the most part. In this case the school is in charge of where and when a child eats, but the parent can still be in charge of what is served by what is packed in the lunch. The child remains in charge of whether to eat, how much to eat and which foods to eat from what is packed.
Grains & Breads:
Include whole grain bread, crackers, pretzels, tortillas, cereal, toasted whole grain waffle, pasta, rice or couscous.
Fruit & Veggies:
Try to include some sort of fruit and/or vegetable. Consider fresh, frozen or dried fruit without added sugar. Using 100% fruit or vegetable juice is another idea. (Try to limit juice to one juice box a day). Toss in some carrots, cucumbers, red peppers or other veggies with low fat dressing, dipping sauce or hummus.
Protein: Use turkey, ham or roast beef lunch meats or leftovers from dinner. Try veggie patties or hardboiled eggs. Include cheese, cottage cheese, or yogurt. Consider adding nuts, nutbutters, soybeans, other beans, bean soup or a bean dip, such as hummus.
Calcium: Include low fat milk, cheese (string cheese) or yogurt, calcium fortified
Fun Foods: Treats or fun foods are optional, but important to include so kids can see that all foods can fit into their day. Some examples are cookies, chips, candy or granola bars.
Keep the Food Safe: It is important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Consider getting an insulated lunch box or small cooler to help keep things cold longer. You can include an ice pack to keep food cold or consider freezing a bottle of water, juice, cheese sticks or yogurt. You can also use a thermos to keep drinks cold or soup and chili hot.
Solicit Ideas and Help
From the Kids. Once kids are old enough to pack their own lunch you can pass this duty on to them. Offer some guidelines as to what you expect to ensure that the different food groups are represented in their lunch. Periodically have a meeting with your kids to discuss different ideas for meals and or snacks. I learned from my daughter that she really likes carrots wrapped in a piece of salami. I would have never thought of this if we didn't make time to discuss options.
Some Lunch Examples (try to include as least a main item and 2-4 sides):
Rice balls rolled in grated carrots and ham, add some yogurt and a piece of fruit to round it out..
Left over pasta and meat sauce (add
tofu, soybeans or other beans to marinara sauce), milk and cookies.
Left over pizza, hummus and carrots, and calcium fortified juice..
Tuna or roast beef sandwich (using pita, bread or tortillas), veggies and dip, dried apricots, milk..
Cheese sticks, crackers, cut up
fruit, milk and a granola bar.
Peanut or almond butter and jelly, honey, banana or raisin sandwich, milk, cucumber and red peppers and ranch, chips
Yogurt, soybeans, pretzels, a piece of fruit, cookies and water.
Nuts and dried fruit with yogurt, a bagel with cream cheese and milk.
Pack a burrito. Spread some refried beans, rice or corn, and cheese on a tortilla. Roll it up in foil. Add a side of salsa, chips, fruit and milk
Ham and cheese sandwich, berries mixed in plain Greek yogurt, cucumber and carrots, chips and water.
Thermos with beans and cheese, side of tortilla chips, fruit, carrots and milk
The above are just some ideas. Chatting with friends and neighbors can also stimulate ideas. Most children will need a morning snack to be packed as well. Ideally provide 2-3 foods from different groups for the snack time. Some lunch boxes may be bursting at the seams with the contents, but it is better to have more than enough food available, than the child not having enough. Remember growing bodies and brains need a lot more nutrition than us adults. When kids are well fueled their behavior and ability to focus improves.