have you planned school lunches for the year?

IMG_2645Instead of giving a long list of lunch ideas (maybe that’s next week’s post) I want to arm you with guidelines that can be applied to all meals, school lunch included. Sticking with these guidelines will help ensure that kids are getting enough vitamins, protein and healthy fats (vs. unhealthy fats, found in common lunch foods such as cheese pizza). While you’re shopping for lunch supplies, answer these questions. If you get a yes, then don’t buy it or save it for the occasional treat:

  • Does it have added sugar? (there’s a thing called “ingredient list”. Usually found on the side or back of a package)
  • Does it have partially-hydrogenated fats? (can be found in crackers, some fruit leather products, many cereal/granola bars)
  • Does it have artificial flavors or colors? (often found in fruit leather products, granola bars)
  • Is it made with enriched flour? (a.k.a. white flour. What you want is whole wheat or whole grain)
  • Does it have nuts? (most schools are nut-free, but pumpkin or sunflowers seed butter, spreads made from beans and roasted garlic, or roasted soybeans are delicious substitutes)

So, what are you left with now that you can’t send flavored yogurt, pizza, jello, pretzels, craisins, and on and on? Well, a lot of these items have a healthier version (like plain yogurt with cut up fruit, or whole grain bagel with lots of veggies and some cheese, or raisins with no other ingredients). Not to mention why does lunch have to be lunch? Sending dinner is easier for you since you just plop today’s broccoli stirfry into tomorrow’s lunchbox. Either get a thermos or send along leftovers that taste good cold (like beans and rice).

Take a look at your typical lunch box staples and if they don’t make the cut, swap them for their healthier version. And please. Skip The Juice. Let your kids choose and purchase their own water bottle for school and fill it with, you guessed it: water!

Why does healthy have to be nerdy? Talk to other parents in the class and plan a class trip to a local produce farm or start a mini veggie garden at school to get kids excited about real food. Getting kids involved and inspired about healthy eating can slowly change the negative associations kids have with “healthy” food and will hopefully foster a lifelong appreciation for wholesome eating.

It isn’t about what you’re sending to lunch this week. Or this month or even year. It’s about educating the children of today to be the healthy adults of tomorrow.