Preparing Healthy School Lunches

Since the quality of most school cafeteria food is, at the least, questionable, I feel it is very important for children to each lunches prepared by loving parents creating healthy, nutritious foods for developing brains. First, the lunchbox: Sometimes it's a lot about the gear! Consider letting your child pick out their own lunchbox or purchase one and let them decorate it with paint or markers. Make sure their name is on it and all containers you put in it with a permanent marker or paint. Most schools will not provide a refrigerator to store lunchboxes, so you should select an insulated one with a re-usable freezer pack to keep the lunch fresh. Or, instead of using a freezer pack, you can freeze a bottle of water, and add it to the lunch box. It will keep the lunch cold and fresh during morning classes and by lunch time it will have thawed and be ready to drink. More gear - containers: Those gimmicky, salt, fat and sugar-filled (not to mention GMO-filled), "Lunchables" trays are very popular with kids. Not because they taste so good, but because look so cool. There is no reason a homemade lunch needs to look dull and unappetizing. Buy colorful containers in different shapes to pack your child’s lunch. They are better than plastic bags and less wasteful too. (I used to say BPH-free for plastic water bottles and containers but recent research has found that BPH-free plastic may be just as harmful or more.) If your child is drawn to characters, buy some stickers and let them decorate the containers.  Offer plenty of choices: Provide small servings and many choices -- variety is a key to healthy eating. Variety is not so hard or time consuming and the results pay off. Many lunch foods can be prepared, in advance, in large quantities. Each morning, simply fill up small containers with different foods - as much organic and GMO-free as possible, especially those on the high-pesticide list such as apples, peaches, strawberries, cherries, celery, carrots and corn. (Send me a message if you would like more info.) Quick lunchbox food suggestions include:

Sulfate-free dried fruit
Nuts and seeds
Fresh fruit pieces or a piece of whole fruit
Applesauce (no sugar added)
Celery sticks filled with cream cheese and raisins, or white bean dip (available at Trader Joe's)
Sugar snap peas with organic Ranch dressing for dipping
Yogurt or a smoothie
Nitrate-free lunch meat roll-ups with cream cheese and an asparagus in the middle (or omit the cream cheese and substitute a dill pickle slice for the asparagus)
Hard boiled egg
Cheese cubes or string cheese logs
Nut butter (or sunflower butter) and apple slices or crackers
White bean dip or hummus with organic carrots and mini pita breads
Organic crackers or pretzels
Organic granola or trail mix made from cereal, nuts and dried fruit

You can also browse the organic aisles at your grocery store for healthy snack ideas. Ezekiel sprouted grain English muffins are great lightly toasted ahead of time and you can add all kinds of spreads from pizza toppings to honey and cinnamon!

Talk to your child about lunchtime: Don't assume that your child's uneaten lunch is sign that she or he did not like the food. If you ask a few questions, you may find that your child does not have enough time to eat lunch or that he or she is spending more time socializing with his friends than actually chewing. Asking questions will give you the opportunity to help your child learn other important skills such as managing their time and selecting times to socialize. 

Simple lunch box recipes:

Pineapple Kabobs
Pineapple chunks (1/2-inch pieces)
Marble cheese cubes (½ inch pieces)
Slices of nitrate-free ham cut into 1-inch squares
Directions: Assemble the mini-kabobs on a toothpick in the following manner: Ham square, pineapple chunk, ham square and a cheese cube.
Veggie version: Substitute teriyaki-flavored baked tofu for the ham/cheese. Baked tofu can easily be sliced into small cubes and is very tasty with the pineapple.

Trail Mix
Directions: Combine any or all of these ingredients in an airtight container and toss gently to mix. Store airtight. Lasts for weeks.
Ingredients: Dry snacks: Non-GMO cereal (low in sugar – under 5g per serving), small pretzels, graham cracker or rice cake pieces, or animal crackers.
Dried fruits: Cherries, apricots, raisins, mangoes or coconut flakes (Tip: big pieces of dried fruit can be cut up easily using kitchen shears).
Nuts and seeds: sliced almonds, pecan pieces, cashew pieces, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or peanut pieces.

Kiwi Wraps or rolls
These wraps can be served as a traditional wrap sandwich or slice it into pieces (like a sushi roll) for bite sized treats.
1 tablespoon peanut butter or sunflower butter
1 tablespoon cream or Neufchatel cheese
1/2 kiwi
Tortilla -- whole wheat or plain (squared)
Remove the skin from the kiwi and slice it into thin rounds. Spread peanut butter over half the wrap and cream cheese on the other half of the wrap. Arrange the kiwi slices evenly over the cream cheese. Beginning on the cream cheese end, gently roll up the tortilla forming a log shape. The peanut butter will act as the glue to keep it together.

(Some parts of the above article were adapted from Fresh Baby

You can also leave out the kiwi from the wrap and cut one in half instead so your child can scoop out the inside with a spoon. You can send half one day and the next day the other half, or they can have it as an after-school snack.

Gluten-free ideas:



Eileen S.

Elementary Ed, Preschool and Kindergarten Readiness

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