Healthy School Lunch Ideas and Tips
By Dr. Keith Kantor
School lunches can make or break your child’s overall performance in the classroom and any after school activities that they participate in. A school lunch that is loaded with processed ingredients and sugar will leave your child with a spike in blood sugars, providing a quick burst of energy followed by a drop in blood sugars, making them want to sleep in class and they will have minimal energy at after school activities.
The key to a perfect school lunch is balance and it also has to appeal to your child. Children truly eat with their eyes and if it does not look good then they probably will not eat it. Pack lunches in bento boxes and compartmentalize with cupcake silicone reusable “cups”. For younger children who love to pick, pack finger foods like grapes, carrot sticks, cheese squares, trail mix, hummus and/or a sandwich. This is like a mini appetizer plate or a protein box that is sold at coffee shops. It can also work well for older teens and even adults at work, in the car or at their desk.
Get them involved with the planning process.
If your child is actually involved with the planning process they will feel like they “own” the lunch and will be less likely to throw away things that they do not want. Teachers and cafeteria staff report that fruits and vegetables end up in the trash in most school cafeterias.
When you are packing the lunch, keep balance in mind, and make sure to include protein, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. Limit processed grains and empty calories like cookies, crackers, and juice.
If they like dessert then pack a piece of dark chocolate. Removing items that are high in sugar like juice and cookies will increase their ability to focus in classes after their lunch period.
It has been reported that more than 12 million North American children are medicated for Attention Deficient Disorder (ADD). Sugar and excessive carbohydrates magnifies symptoms of ADD in children, healthy fats like nuts, and oils help reduce symptoms of ADD.
Always pack water over juice, all humans should aim to drink at least half their body weight in ounces of water per day, even more for those who are active.
It amazes me that student athletes will not drink any water at school all day long and then practice out in the sun sweating after school for two or more hours. A dehydrated athlete will have a hard time focusing and more importantly could pass out from heat stroke or suffer from other dehydration symptoms. A large water bottle is the best thing you could send with your child every day. Lastly make sure you keep the lunch at a safe temperature, this is often overlooked. Always pack the lunch in an insulated lunch bag or box with one to two ice packs depending on how big the lunch is. Sometimes kids have four or more hours before lunchtime, and they store their lunch in a locker. If perishable items reach a dangerous temperature they will be exposed to harmful bacteria and could make your child sick.
As parents, one of the simple things we can do to keep our child healthy is nourish them with fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, proteins and optimal hydration.
Developing a healthy nutrition routine will carry over into their adult life decreasing their risk for developing chronic diseases that are related to weight gain such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and thyroid complications.
Always focus on colour (both fruit and vegetables), high quality protein, and heart healthy fats. See the options listed below.
Twist on PB&J (2 slices Whole grain bread, 1-2 Tbs. all natural almond or cashew butter and all natural fruit spread or better yet real berries + 1 apple + 1 serving carrot sticks with 2 Tbs. hummus for dipping.
Lettuce Wraps with nitrate free deli chicken or turkey, tomatoes, spinach, 1 oz cheese and mustard + 1 c chopped melon + and ¼ c nuts or homemade trail mix
1 serving almond crackers + ½ c chicken or tuna salad + 1 banana + 1 c cucumber slices with salsa or hummus for dipping
6-8oz Greek yogurt + ½ c all natural granola + ½ c berries and 5 celery sticks with all natural peanut/almond, cashew or nut-free butter and raisins (ants on a log)