Last month I wrote about children’s daily nutrition needs for every age. This month I am sharing a few healthy school lunch ideas that reflect those nutritional needs and offer a healthy balance of grains, proteins, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. I came up with these menu ideas over the past few months, trying to give my kids something they are excited to eat without resorting to pre-packaged junk foods and PB&J sandwiches.
If your kids are like mine, there is a fine line between healthy choices and providing foods they enjoy. Trying to work with their interests mind, I’ve discovered that healthy kids food can look quite a bit different from what an adult might choose. And I’ve also learned that it’s okay to make a few exceptions from an idealistic meal plan for the sake of their enjoyment of the food. Sometimes it means including a small piece of candy as a treat or packing the occasional serving of boxed macaroni and cheese. Offering other kid-centric foods such as low-fat chocolate milk or adding sprinkles to Greek yogurt, can be great ways to sneak in a healthy serving of dairy.
A quick review of children’s daily nutrition needs
- Calcium and Vitamins D, C, and A are critical to bone growth and a healthy immune system. In addition to a daily supplement, try to include a serving of milk, cheese, or yogurt with every meal.
- In general, children need more carbohydrates than adults, but it is not permission to give them highly processed foods. Try to use whole grains and unprocessed low-fat foods whenever possible.
- Every child ages 1-18 needs a variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. This means packing a few servings into each meal, including school lunches.
- Protein can be challenging to work into a child’s diet, but it is a critical building block for growing muscles. Young children need 1-2 servings a day, while older children need 3-4 servings a day.
Tips for Packing Lunch
- Try to include one serving of protein and/or dairy and 2-3 servings of grains, fruits, and veggies in each lunch. If you are adding a drink, try to choose a no-sugar-added natural juice or low-calorie chocolate milk.
- Use sturdy food containers instead of sandwich bags. Those poor lunches get stuffed into a backpack and thrown in to a lunch bin for hours before they are presented for lunch. They need all the protection they can get! I like to use a bento-style container system because it helps with portions and keeps the food nicely separated without juices running everywhere.
- Include a freezer pack to help keep the food cold and fresh. Nobody likes to eat a warm, slimy sandwich or brown mushy apple slices.
- Make lunch the night before. Give yourself time to prepare cooked foods and be mindful about ingredients you are choosing. Morning time will be so much easier, and your lunches will be healthier.
- Steer clear of too many sandwiches. Even though deli sandwiches are a great combination of meat, cheese and veggies, any food can get boring when it’s served all the time. My kids begged me to give them anything but a sandwich, so all of these recipes offer a little something different!
Try these five easy, kid-friendly, and healthy school lunch ideas this week!
Teriyaki Noodle Lunch
(All items available in the grocery store)
- Plain, Lo Mein Noodles in Teriyaki Sauce
- Fresh Snap Peas
- Chinese Barbecue Pork
- Fortune Cookie
Bagel, Salami & Fruit
- Whole Wheat Bagel
- Low-fat Cream Cheese
- Raw Celery Slices
- Low-fat Mozzarella Cheese Stick
- Deli salami
- Low-fat Peanut Butter
Mac & Cheese, Please!
- Boxed Mac & Cheese, Prepared
- Fresh Strawberries
- Cucumber Slices
- Low-fat Yogurt Stick
- Pretzel Sandwiches
Turkey & Cheese Kebabs
- Deli Turkey, Cut Into Cubes
- Cheddar Cheese, Cut Into Cubes
- Seedless Grapes
- Pita Chips
- Baby Carrots
Build Your Own Pizza
- 1-2 Sandwich Thins
- Shredded Cheese
- Pizza Sauce
- Canadian Bacon Slices
- Pineapple Chunks