Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What's In Your Child's Lunchbox?

It's the time of year when the kids are off to school.  As a parent of two preschool age children I know how hectic the days may be.  This is the first year my son will be going to school 4 out of 5 days during the week.  To be honest, this is also the first year I am ensuring he has a healthy lunch packed. 

I understand how tempting it is to want to give your child money for lunch to purchase cafeteria foods rather than sending your child with a midday brown bag meal.

Previously, my son was going to preschool two days per week and I threw leftovers into his lunchbox.  I threw random food items into Ziploc lunch bags and didn't give much thought about the meal being "balanced."  This may be surprising for some individuals to read considering I am a dietitian.  The truth is that I am also a parent and I understand how chaotic the days can become.  There are times I scramble and grab anything in the refrigerator or freezer to feed my kids forgetting about the snacks or foods they previously had during the day.

I am now starting to realize, however, just how important it is to take some time out of the day to plan ahead for meals. 

In the past, I would put random food items into my son's lunchbox about 10 minutes before I had to take him to preschool.  But this year is going to be different. 

Every evening before I go to bed, I will make it a new habit to prepare my son's lunch so that I don't have to struggle to prepare a lunch for him in 5 minutes during our busy morning.  With a little preparation, his lunchbox will be filled with delicious healthy foods and I will feel like one proud mama! 

This year I spent under $5.00 to purchase portioned plastic containers and a freezer pack to ensure my son has a balanced lunch.  By doing so, I am confident my son will now have a variety of healthy foods to choose from. 

It is up to me (the parent) to make sure I fill the containers with healthy food options.  It may also be confusing to know what foods and beverages are considered "healthy" to pack into your child's lunchbox. 

Listed below are suggested healthy meal options.

  • Multi-grain bagels, whole-grain English muffins, tortillas and colorful wraps, whole- grain bread slices, crackers and pita pockets are all great options instead of white bread 
  • Light canned tuna fish, chicken, and egg salads mixed with a small amount of mayonnaise
  • Lean, low sodium lunch meats such as ham or turkey
  • Peanut butter or almond butter spread with slices of apples, bananas, raisins, or granola
  • Veggie or turkey burgers topped with a slice of cheese or guacamole
  • Sliced veggies such as carrot sticks, celery, broccoli, tomatoes, colorful peppers and don't forget to pack your child's favorite veggie dip on the side!
  • Sliced fruits including strawberries, grapes, pears, peaches
  • Whole fruits including bananas, blueberries, apples
  • Dried or freeze-dried fruits
  • Applesauce
  • Yogurt
  • Raisins
  • Cottage cheese
  • Baked chips
  • Veggie straws
  • Trail mixes
  • Pita bread and hummus
  • Granola bars
  • Low-fat  or fat-free milk
  • Water
  • 100% Fruit juices
  • Water with a splash of fruit juice for extra flavor
  • Avoid soda and high sugar beverages such as fruit punch
By packing a serving of food from the protein group, whole-grain/multi-grain group, fruit group and vegetable group, your child will be consuming the essential vitamins and nutrients he or she needs. 

The benefits of children consuming healthy foods is not only important for their long term optimal health, but also their academic performance.  Studies have shown that students with poorly rated diets perform lower on standardized tests.  In addition, experts have found that skipping meals or consuming unbalanced meals interferes with concentration at school.

The benefits of packing healthy foods and beverages into your child's lunchbox are endless.  If you haven't given much thought about your child's lunch in the past, start thinking today!   


mbardz said...

Hi Denise! Last year ( my daughter's third grade year), I packed a lunch for her everyday rather then letting her have the school lunches (as I had years before). At first it was a pain but we quickly got in the habit. I would mostly put a sandwich in there (turkey or pbj on 12 grain bread) and a bag of veggies (she swore she ate), apple or some other fruit, a cheese stick or a bag of tortilla chips, and some sort of dessert. Over the summer, she was tired of sandwiches so I would put hummos & veggies as the main course, when she was tired of that, I went to cut up veggies and a bag of peanuts. I was starting to run out of ideas, so thanks for the ones you put. I dont really like the idea of putting hot food in a thermos although Julia says her friends do it and she wants to start.

Denise the Dietitian said...

Thank you for the comment mbardz! I am happy this post could help with meal planning. I am making lunches for tomorrow right now actually 😊 Best wishes!