Along with getting all of your child’s school supplies, back-to-school prep should include planning for healthy lunches.
A healthy school lunch provides sound nutrition to establish a lifetime of healthy habits and the energy your child needs for the rest of his busy day. My son participated in “Lunch Bunch” for the past year through his preschool. In doing so, he is convinced that Mommy needs to pack his lunch for him to take to school this year as well. So like a lot of other parents, I am the one responsible for ensuring that he gets the nutrition he needs to get through the day.
To help explore some healthy lunch guidelines and options, I have asked Lisa Bradley, CACFP Coordinator, to share some resources.
Have a Great Week!
One of the biggest memories I have about elementary school is sitting with my class in the lunch room and opening my Little House on the Prairie lunch box to see what wonders I would find inside. I did not think about whether coming up with fun, nutritious lunches each day was a tough thing for my mom to do. All I knew was that I could count on my lunch being the best one at the table. Looking back, I realize that a lot of time was involved to pack four lunches, five days a week, and to keep it interesting and healthy. I asked my mom her secret, and she said that the biggest one was….planning.
It sounds easy, but planning has its challenges. First of all, there is making a nutritious lunch that will be eaten. Whether you are a parent packing a lunch box, a day care provider feeding 10 children, or a school cafeteria worker, you know that food is only going to give them the nutrients they need if they actually eat it. I look at the My Plate material (see link below) and base my lunches on providing a lean protein, a fruit, a vegetable and a grain product. Milk is my go-to beverage for the vitamins and minerals it provides. Letting children help plan is a good way to teach them about wise food choices as well as giving them a say in what they eat. Listening to our children’s input will also help us provide a variety of different foods so they will keep interested in what we are presenting to them. Shop together and explore the seasonal fruits and vegetables available at the grocery or at the farmer’s market.
It is also important while planning to take into account how much time the child has to eat. School settings have shorter lunch times than homes. We need to be careful to consider that for every item they may need help opening, they lose for eating. Having pre-cut, pre-peeled fruits and veggies, and sandwiches that are cut for easy handling is a handy way to add more minutes to their eating. Making sure we send a spoon or fork if needed also assists in time management. Another consideration is making sure that the foods we pack or prepare are not going to spoil if they sit in a locker or classroom. Fortunately, many new lunch boxes have small freezer packs that will keep things cool, or you can try freezing grapes as a fruit. When you child is ready for lunch, the grapes will be thawed, but anything perishable will still be fresh and safe to eat.
Keep it fun. Try using different cookie cutters to cut everything from sandwiches to fruit. Look for seasonal foods or try tying into things going on in their classes or at home. For example, on classroom yellow day, add a yellow food to the lunch. Speaking on adding foods, if you wish to try new foods, make sure that they are served with a mix of the familiar. It can take up to 10 tries when presenting new foods for a child to try it. If we present all new and unfamiliar foods, a lunch may not get eaten, and the rest of the day may be more challenging.
Lunch time is a great time to refuel and relax. These simple tips may make it easier for everyone involved!
Lisa Bradley is the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Coordinator for ECA. She works across ECA’s 10-county service area, providing nutrition information and training while monitoring Program compliance. Lisa, who has a degree in culinary arts, has also worked as the Food Quality Controller at ECA’s Learning Center-Beacon Street.
For more tips about Packing Healthy School Lunches, visit:
- Meal Planning: How to Pack a Healthy School Lunch from American Heart Association
- How to Pack a Better Lunch from Woman’s Day
- The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook from Choose My Plate
- 15 Healthy, Kid-Friendly Lunch Ideas from My Fitness Pal