10 Tips for How to Make Healthy Lunches for Kids

Girl eating apple

Back to School….Packing Quick and Healthy Lunchboxes for your Kids

by Stephanie Harren

CFNS-Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist

It’s that time of year again.  Summer is over, although it may not feel like it temperature wise.  School is starting soon, for some of my friends started weeks ago, and that means packing the proverbial school lunch.

We all want to make sure that our kids are eating healthy, but sometimes it’s easier to just buy the school lunch.  But Attention Moms!  The school-lunch kids are less likely to participate in active sports like basketball, moderate exercise like walking, or team sports than their home-fed counterparts.  They also spent more time watching TV, playing video games, and using computers outside of school.

According to the American College of Cardiology, those who ate school lunches compared with kids who brought lunch from home:

  • Were more likely to be overweight or obese (38.2% vs. 24.7%)
  • Were more likely to eat two or more servings of fatty meats like fried chicken or hot dogs daily (6.2% vs. 1.6%)
  • Were more likely to have two or more sugary drinks a day (19% vs. 6.8%)
  • Were less likely to eat at least two servings of fruits a day (32.6% vs. 49.4%)
  • Were less likely to eat at least two servings of vegetables a day (39.9% vs. 50.3%)
  • Had higher levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol

What makes a school lunch so bad?  The typical American school lunch is high in unhealthy fats, high in sodium, and low in fiber.  Often they are overly processed and laden with preservatives and additives you and I can’t even pronounce. “School lunches hardly resemble real food — they serve items such as chicken nuggets, which are highly processed, with additives and preservatives, and list more than 30 ingredients instead of just chicken,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor of nutrition food studies and public health at New York University. Nuggets are only one example of how schools rely on too many foods that are heavily processed and high in sugar, sodium, and chemicals. The problem isn’t simply that kids are eating unhealthy foods for lunch. The cafeteria’s offerings also give a seal of approval: “Kids associate school with education; therefore they get the wrong impression that these kinds of foods are healthy,” says Dr. Nestle.

So what is a mom to do?  Time and convenience often win out.  Although there are lots of convenience products available to make packing your kid’s lunchbox a snap, those products are often loaded with saturated fat, calories and sodium.  This doesn’t make them much better than a school lunch.

Here are some tips to get you started and save you time.

10 Tips to a Healthy Quick Lunch Box

  1. Pack leftovers
  2. Make lunches the night before.
  3.  Pick foods that can safely sit at room temperature for several hours, such as whole fruits, veggies, olives, nuts, cheese, whole grain crackers and peanut butter.
  4. Keep kids interested in their lunches by adding the surprise and variety of naturally healthful colors and textures. Try adding crunchy orange carrots, bright red cherry tomatoes, shiny black olives, crisp green beans and other colorful fruits and veggies.
  5. Always include fresh fruit and vegetables.  Vary the selection to keep it interesting.
  6. Use avocado as a spread instead of butter or margarine.
  7. Use reduced fat dairy foods. Cheese and yoghurt are ideal.
  8.  Kids need a serve of protein at lunchtime. Ensure you include lean meat, egg, peanut butter, chickpeas or tuna.
  9.  Add a chilled bottle of water and limit juice.
  10. Offer variety. Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief of Epicurious.com and author of Real Food for Healthy Kids, recommends packing at least three different types of food every day. “Think of the lunchbox as a meal on a plate, with protein, complex crabs, fresh produce and a wholesome treat on the side.” For example, she suggests a turkey and coleslaw wrap, pita chips, berries with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and a granola bar or trail mix.

And here are some websites to help you out of the rut







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