Fresh Take: School Lunch

If you have a child starting a new school year, you’re no doubt in possession of a detailed school supply list that ensures your child will have just the right pencils and folders. But if you aren’t also discussing nutrition with your children, your back to school preparations are incomplete.

In my opinion, the one thing missing from a traditional back-to-school list is a reminder to develop a menu that includes at least five lunches your child will eat. I suggest preparing this essential menu before the school year gets busy. It will save you much time and stress later. Some children are not into sandwiches, others prefer something hot and many just like to “snack.” No matter what kind of eater your child is, the same rules apply.

Lion Love Bento
Lion Love Bento / Melissa of / CC BY 2.0

Step #1

Start with a protein: Ensure your child’s midday meal includes a protein such as cheese, chicken, lean cold cuts, tofu, Greek yogurt, beans or bean soup. Adequate protein ensures your child will be satisfied.

Possibly add a heart-healthy fat: Adding a fat such as diced avocado, hummus, salad dressing or a canola or olive oil-based mayonnaise will help your child stay fuller for longer.

Go for color: Sliced or diced veggies not only add color and make lunch more inviting; adding them helps your child get in adequate daily servings. Round out the meal with a sweet serving of fruit and your children will get the tummy-filling fiber they need.

Add carbohydrates for energy: Multi-grain crackers, whole wheat bread or wraps, whole wheat pasta, brown rice and quinoa are just some of the high-quality (often protein-rich) carbohydrates choices you can add to lunch.

Step #2

Once you have these four essential components, you are ready for Step #2, which is to consider your child. Do they eat a sandwich at home? Do they prefer to pick at different foods? Is it hard to get them to eat in the first place?

For the child who likes to pick: Consider a Bento box, which allows you to pack a variety of foods for them to choose from.

For the sandwich lover: Use the suggestions above to keep their sandwiches interesting so that children are excited to eat.

For the child who likes a hot lunch: Pick up a stainless steel thermos that will keep foods hot and use it to pack a hearty bean soup, pasta mixed with protein or last night’s leftovers.

For the child who just won’t eat a traditional lunch: This child will need a nutritious snack or even a meal upon arriving home. To get through the school day, try a Greek yogurt and a hearty granola bar that provides at least 7 grams of protein such as Guiding Star rated Kashi Peanut Peanut Butter Chewy Granola Bars or Rickland Orchards Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Coated Granola Bars.

If your child buys lunch every day:  You can still encourage better variety for your child by reviewing the menu ahead of time and taking advantage of the alternative to hot lunch such as yogurt parfait or salad. Be sure they are eating their complete meal, including their fruits and veggies!

Controlling what your child eats outside the house is a challenge. These guidelines will help you create a lunch they’re more excited to eat, but remember that even if you struggle to get them to eat lunch at school from time to time, don’t let it stress you too much. You still have two meals at home every day to make sure they’re getting a good balanced of important nutrients.