How to Pack a Healthy School Lunch

Summer has flown by – are you ready? It’s that dreaded lunch-packing time again! Are you relieved or stressed about the early morning chaos? For some parents, it may seem hard to believe that another year has flown by and the kids are growing up so quickly. For most parents though, it means it’s time to start thinking about packing lunches, something the majority of parent’s dread. Don’t stress. Christine Zavaglia, a Registered Dietitian, has put together these great tips to make it easy, healthy and tasty.

School lunches are an important source of essential nutrients needed for growth and development and provide the energy kids needs to learn and play.  If kids don’t eat enough at school, they may feel tired and have a hard time concentrating – and come home grumpy!

These tips will help you pack a healthy lunch your kids will actually eat and ugh, not bring back home every day!

Get your kids involved: children are more likely to eat foods they have picked out. Involve them in grocery planning, preparing, and packing their lunch. Offer a variety of healthy items for them to choose from. Younger children can help wash fruits and veggies and make simple sandwiches, while older children can cut up fruits and veggies, assemble wraps, make salad dressings, or they can make their own lunch – odds are they’ll eat it!

Offer a variety; sometimes it takes many tries before they like something: Aim to include fruits and vegetables, a protein source, dairy or milk alternative, and some whole grains or starches. Chickapea Pasta provides high protein and high fiber and works really well in a pasta salad. Try out our Back to School recipe ideas that will surely knock their socks off. Sometimes kids like to eat the same food every day, continue to offer a variety of foods. If you send fruits and vegetables that continue to come back unfinished or even untouched, which is a common concern, be persistent; try offering a favorite choice with a new choice they can try.

Teriyaki Pasta Salad and Roasted Butternut Pasta

Be creative with presentation: A little creativity can help make lunches more interesting for kids. Who doesn’t like cute tea sandwiches right? Try cutting cheese into different shapes using mini cookie cutters and pack them with whole grain crackers or pita. Or try layering pieces of fruit or grape tomatoes with cubes of cheese onto a kid-friendly skewer to make a kabob. Instead of a sandwich on traditional sliced bread, try offering a wrap or stuffed pita. Kids also like to dip – try sending a veggie that your child likes with hummus or a yogurt based dip.

Send leftovers: if your kids love what you made for dinner one night, next time make extra so they can have it for lunch. Meals like chicken soup, pasta and tomato sauce, or chili tend to keep well and taste great a day later. Try making this kid friendly Sneaky Veggie Marinara Pasta using Chickapea pasta, it’s a great way to get your children to eat more vegetables and you are sending them to school with a carbohydrate and protein rich meal to help fuel them through the afternoon. Or if your children love macaroni and cheese, give your usual recipe a healthy make-over by preparing it with Chickapea pasta instead of regular pasta so it contains more protein and fiber than the average recipe. Add some of your child’s favorite vegetables to the sauce for an extra nutritional punch.

Sneaky Veggie Marinara Pasta

Make your own snacks: pre-packaged snacks like granola bars, store bought trail mix, and puddings tend to be high in sugar and low in nutrients. Try making your own mini-muffins or energy bites on the weekends with your kids and freeze them so they can easily be placed in lunch bags during the week. They also make great after-school snacks when they need something right away to eat!

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Kids run around a lot at recess or gym time and can often forget to drink. Water and milk are great beverage choices for kids but try to avoid juice or fruit drinks due to the sugar content. To encourage them to drink, send them with their favorite water bottle. If they find water too plain, try adding a few frozen berries to make it more interesting.

Children grow quickly and need healthy food and plenty of nutrients to support their growth. As a busy mom of two active boys, Michelle Brotherwood, a clinical dietitian at St. Michael’s Hospital, notes that these great tips can also help with picky eating for family meals as well. Michelle works to involve her boys in making varied food choices right from the grocery store to the table by engaging their curiosity and desire to help out with great success.

Children involved in sports and who are very active require even more nutrition. By sending them to school with a healthy lunch and snacks, you’re helping them to establish life-long eating habits to help prevent their risk of obesity and chronic diseases later in life.