5 Simple Steps for Healthy Lunches: Back to School Strategies

It’s that time of year again... the slow days of summer are transitioning into the bustle of fall, back to school and all that goes into making sure your kids are set out there in the world.  

And with this transition is the ever challenging job of the kiddo’s lunches. Are you confused about what to pack in them? Do you find yourself vacillating between grabbing/making convenient but maybe not the healthiest lunch choices and spending what feels like a painful amount of time trying to figure out something that's both healthy and yummy so it won't end up coming back in your child's lunch at the end of the day?

I invite you to rethink what lunch is. Let’s move away from the idea that they need to be quick, portable and convenient foods and move towards thinking about them as foods that reflect our home cooked meals we serve for dinner. It’s essential to stay away from the processed packaged foods marketed as healthy choices that are loaded with sugars, refined carbohydrates and rancid fats. These get our kids addicted to sugar, put them on an emotional roller coaster and don’t do any favors to their developing brains and gut health. With just a few tweaks, we can do so much better.

Here are some strategies and ideas to send your kid to school with a nourishing lunch that will help keep your child well fed, ready to learn, socialize and have fun. By removing or at least reducing processed and packaged foods full of refined carbohydrates and sugar we help keep their blood sugar balanced. This in turn takes them off the emotional roller coaster and frees them up to focus and have fun. Let’s make this a community effort… the more moms and dads we get on board the easier it is. The less packaged and marketed food products our children are exposed to the less they’ll ask for them. 

Here's a little secret... these tips are great for us grown ups too:)

1. Get your child on board. Talk to them in age appropriate ways about the importance of nutritious food and what you’re hopes are for them with their lunches. Get them involved in the process. There are so many great water bottles and food containers on the market these days. Let your child pick out a few. This helps them feel invested in the process. I personally love and use the Life Factory Glass Water Bottles (I’ve been sending my son to preschool with one since he was 3 and haven’t had any issues with breakage) and the Kids Conserve thermoses and stainless steel containers.

2. Keep it simple. Leftovers are a great place to start. I like to build a lunch (which includes a snack) around one “star”. This can be leftover stir fry, soup, stew, beans or quinoa cooked in broth. Something that I know is both nourishing and well liked. From there I add a piece of fruit, nuts, vegetable sticks and hummus or some nice raw, whole milk cheese or some organic salami.

3. Use Real Food. I like the 5 ingredient rule as a starting point. If an item has more than five ingredients it probably is not great for you and if you need to google an ingredient for a definition it’s a sign that you should skip it. This helps limit most packaged foods. However, more and more great products are coming to market so it is possible to include some convenient foods to make life a little easier in a pinch. These items are typically found in the raw food section of your natural grocery store. I don’t like to rely on these as a daily solution but once or twice a week is a nice treat for both you and your kid. (A few examples that I like... Cliff Organic Kit Bars, Sea Snax Seaweed made with 100% olive oil, Coco-Roons and Whole Foods 365 Brand Organic Fruit Strips).

4. Fat, Fiber, Protein. I like to make sure I’ve included healthy fats for long burning energy (plus it’s the preferred source of energy for the brain and heart), fiber to help fill and satisfy (helps promote regularity and a healthy colon) and protein to help modulate the absorption of both fats and carbohydrates for that even blood sugar balance (these are also the building blocks for our muscles and neurotransmitters). This can look as simple as turkey and cheese roll ups (thinly sliced cucumber and carrots, raw aged cheese and mustard wrapped up in organic turkey slices)

5. Commitment. If you and your child are new to this, then this is especially important. As with anything new, it takes 21 days to create a new habit. Give yourself time to adjust and get in your groove. Also, as with anything you want to succeed with, give yourself prep time so you set both you and your child up for success. This is also where organization and planning come into play (tip #6!). The more you can plot out your weeks worth of meals, the easier it is to execute. 

What do you make for your child’s lunch? I’d love to hear your strategies and menu ideas that nourish you and your children.