Our pediatricians share three tips to help parents pack healthy school lunches their kids want to eat!
As children begin heading back to school, many parents have a hard time packing healthy lunches their children will actually eat. Multiple studies have found lunches provided by schools tend to be healthier than lunches packed by parents. And while school lunches have certainly become healthier over the years, you don’t have to rely on the school to provide your child with a nutritious meal. Here are a few tips to help you pack healthy school lunches your children want to eat!
Nutrient-Rich Foods From Multiple Food Groups Sustain Energy & Concentration
Eating nutritious foods gives children more energy, better concentration, and helps them perform better in school. Healthy school lunches should include nutrient-rich foods from each of the primary food groups – Dairy, Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, and Protein. Choosing the right foods will provide your child with the protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fat they need throughout the day. Here are a few ideas of healthy food choices:
- Replace white bread and traditional grains with whole-grain options (whole wheat bread, bagels, English muffins, etc.)
- Replace high-fat lunch meats with low-fat deli meats such as turkey.
- Replace sandwiches with alternative meal options such as wraps, pitas, chicken, soups, and salads.
- Keep your children hydrated with low-fat milk and water. You can also choose hydration-rich foods such as watermelon, cucumbers, grapes, and strawberries.
- Try healthy snacks such as baked chips, homemade trail mix, yogurt, oatmeal cookies, and vegetables with dips. (Kids are more likely to eat vegetables when they have a dip such as ranch or hummus).
- Pack fresh fruit or fruit stored in natural fruit juices rather than pre-packaged fruit stored in syrup.
Remember to check with your child’s school for any food restrictions. Many schools have restrictions on foods that often cause food allergies such as nuts.
Get Your Children Involved In Making Healthy Lunch Choices
One reason a lot of children like school lunches is because it lets them have some control over the foods they choose. You can incorporate this into healthier packed lunches by getting your child involved in packing their lunch. You can still guide their choices by offering a few healthy options for them to choose from. You can use this opportunity to teach your children how to make healthy food choices on their own. When your children feel like they are involved in making their own food choices, they are also more likely to eat the food that is packed.
How To Keep Packed Lunches Safe Throughout The School Day
When packing a lunch for your child to take to school, you also need to consider what needs to be done to keep the food safe until lunchtime. Most schools do not offer refrigerators or freezers for lunches to be stored in. They also don’t offer microwaves to warm food up. Here are a few tips you can use to keep packed food safe for your kids:
- Use a thermos to keep hot foods hot
- Use an ice pack to keep other foods cold. You could also freeze food overnight and let it thaw out in the lunch box during the day.
- Always wash your hands before preparing foods. Remind your children they should wash their hands before eating too. You should also clean out lunch boxes every day.
If food is not kept at the right temperature, it may begin to grow harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness within only a couple hours. Make sure you are taking the necessary steps to keep food at a safe temperature until lunchtime.
Discuss Your Child’s Nutritional Needs With Their Pediatrician
Your child’s annual wellness visit is a great time to discuss any concerns or questions you have about their nutritional needs with their pediatrician. Your pediatrician will also be able to give you additional nutritional advice customized to your child’s unique health needs. Contact Children’s Medical Center today to schedule your child’s annual wellness visit with one of our board-certified pediatricians. We have four convenient office locations in Palm Harbor, Westchase, Trinity, and Lutz. We also have extended hours and are open 7 days a week! We look forward to caring for your child’s whole health.