Healthy School Lunches
The lunch bell rings and your child has about 15 minutes to eat before they are led outside to play and let the next group of kids cycle through the lunch tables. This world is constantly pressed for time and the school yard is no different. We need to make every second and every bite count. As parents, it isn't enough to determine lunch success by the amount of food that has been eaten out of the lunchbox. The plan for success needs to begin before the lunchbox leaves the kitchen. The strategy for healthy school lunches should be, "how much protein and fat can I get in my child in a short amount of time?" Why you ask? Because protein and fat is what actually FUELS our brains. It also prevents everyone from enduring that much dreaded sugar crash.
The biggest mistake is to add too much "filler" in the lunchbox. Fillers are simple carbs like crackers, chips, cereal, power bars, fruit sauces, fruit rolls and fruit juices. These foods not only take the place of real nutrition that your child could eat, but they cause blood sugar spikes and crashes that are detrimental to his or her health. When we are hungry and we eat simple carbs, it is like putting paper on a fire.
We need to focus on putting logs on the fire for sustained energy and concentration. Foods that are full of protein and healthy fats make great logs. As you are packing up lunches, consider including a few of these ideas.
Ideas for healthy school lunches
- hard boiled eggs lightly salted, shells removed
- small pieces of cut up leftover dinner meat or meatballs
- hummus with veggies, ready to dip
- raw nuts, coconut chips and dried fruit trail mix
- cheese sticks or cut up cheese cubes
- Coco-roons make a great cookie treat
- avocado and cheese quesadillas on corn tortillas
- tuna and crackers with celery
- sushi rolls with cucumber, cream cheese, and smoked salmon
- almond butter and raw honey on sour dough sandwich bread
- plain whole fat yoghurt with raw honey or maple syrup
- scrambled egg and bean burrito
- ham slices wrapped around a soft cheese
- tortilla chips with beans, cheese and guacamole
- soba noodles with peanut butter sauce and chicken chunks
Sample school lunchbox
Hard egg, almond butter, crackers, cheese slices, carrot sticks, and green beans steamed in butter
School lunches are not a good time to introduce a new vegetable. Although well-intentioned, your child may dump it and ultimately waste food. Wait to introduce new vegetables at the dinner table when kids are hungry and everyone can taste the new food together. It's important to remember that fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates that do not provide the kind of fuel a protein and fat will for lunch. Simply incorporate a small portion of the vegetables they like, and give them options.
Offer specific choices
Another mistake I see parents make is asking there kids, "what would you like to eat?" and then sigh when the kids reply, "pizza" everyday. Try rephrasing the question with no more than three options that you are OK with. "Would you like cheese, chicken, or cashews for your protein?" If you really want that vegetable to be eaten, be specific. "What vegetable would you prefer: carrot sticks, snap peas, or celery tomorrow? I often ask the kids before I go shopping what vegetables (carbs), proteins and fats they want for the week. I make a list, similar to the one above and let my children make their choices from it. They feel empowered and I feel happy they are being nourished with strong, efficient foods.
It is all about making lunches quick and easy in my house, but quality comes first. As long as you make sure the right ingredients are on hand, the assembly should come together quick. A great time for your child to make their own lunch is during dinner clean up. Since you are already in the kitchen, pull out the lunch gear and set your child to work finding their vegetable (the carb), a protein, and a healthy fat.
Finally, a piece of fruit can be a dessert. Fruit should be thought of as dessert because fructose is pure sugar and will cause spikes in blood sugar just like a cookie or chips. If you want the fruit eaten in those 15 minutes at school, make sure an apple is sliced or the banana cut into easy to peel segments. And please add enough healthy fats to slow down the absorption of all that sugar.
My kids do not eat as much at lunch now that I make high fat, high protein meals. This is great because I spend less at the store, and waste less food. If you think your child is a high volume eater, look and see if there are a lot of empty "paper" carbs like fruit sauce and crackers in their lunch. Think about it, anyone can sit down and eat an entire bag of chips or a whole bag of grapes and still feel hungry, but how many people can sit and eat through a stick of butter or a tub of Greek yoghurt? Essential fat is there to make you feel full.
Healthy fats are essential to the body
Essential fats are in foods such as: olives, avocados, coconut, butter, whole milk, cheeses, raw nuts or nut butters, and clean sustainable meats.
So with the new school year starting, let's set our action plan to include lunchbox success. Try adding more protein and fat to your child's lunch for a few weeks and cut out the filler carbs. I guarantee you will see a change in focus and energy and less meltdowns after school. You will also prevent them from gaining excess weight from snack foods and unnecessary sugar. Imagine your child is a high performance machine, let's say a Ferrari. Would you put sugar in the engine or high octane fuel?
We all want to do what is best for our children and help them win their races. Try using a few of these new fuel tips and see how differently their engines perform. If you find this "fuel" working on your children, try it on yourself, it actually works for parents too!