Back to School – Best Foods to Pack for Your Child’s Lunch

 

The importance of a healthy lunch

How many of you dread school day mornings because you are asking yourself, “What should I put in my child’s lunch box?”  School day mornings are already challenging enough without having to worry about this question!  I always try to come up with the most nutritious and tasty combinations to pack in my children’s lunch boxes. I hope that they will eat their lunches and that I won’t find them languishing in the bottom of their backpacks at the end of the day.

We begin each school year with such hope and joy.  With that in mind, I put together a number of recommendations for making winning combinations in your child’s lunch box. It is important to first understand what the child needs from his diet during the school day, and then how to plan the foods to fit into recesses and to fuel them for the school day (short or long).

 

What do children need to eat at school?

School time is between a quarter to one third of the child’s day. It is a major part of their waking hours, and they need to find a good way to nourish their bodies. It is important to ensure the child will have 2-3 main food groups during school hours:  protein, carbohydrates, healthy fat and a good source of vitamins & minerals. If the child misses one or two food groups at school, he should eat them at home before or after school. It’s up to us as parents and caregivers to make sure our child’s daily menu contains all of these food groups.

 

Examples of snacks during short breaks (morning recess):

  • A small sandwich with cheese, avocado or hummus plus vegetables
  • 1-2 cheese sticks with vegetables or fruit
  • Fresh fruit — apple, orange, nectarine, strawberries, blueberries, melon, clementines, grapes, pear and more. Cut large fruit into pieces for young children who have difficulty eating the whole fruit.
  • Yogurt plus fruit or granola. Send the yogurt and the mixer (sliced fruit or granola) in different containers so the child can mix it on the spot.  No one likes soggy granola or runny yogurt! Don’t forget to pack a spoon! You can purchase yogurt cups that already have separate compartments of yogurt and fruit or granola that are ready to mix.
  • Dried fruit in a small zip-lock bag or in a small container
  • Hard-boiled egg plus vegetables (Yes, some kids like to eat a whole hard-boiled egg!)
  • Cut vegetables with a dip of hummus or cottage cheese
  • Corn on the cob (Some kids love to eat corn at school.)
  • Energy/granola bars: Typically, I’m not in favor of bringing sweets to school, but there are some sweet options that you can send from time to time for school snacks (for example, bars up to 100 calories). Choose a bar that is without high-fructose corn syrup, contains oats or other healthy cereals, and is not loaded with sugar (no more than 5-6 grams of sugar per snack bar).
  • Homemade muffins: This one of my favorite things to send to school. I make the smaller mini-muffins suitable for a “snack meal.” My children and I together choose what to put inside — blueberries, strawberries, nectarines, and even a small amount of chocolate chips just to give them a little zing (you don’t have to, but kids love it). This way, I am able to control the amount of added sugar, yet my kids still feel “super cool” that they have delicious muffins as a snack.
  • 100-calorie individual packages of baked snacks such as pretzels, popcorn, potato chips and more. Don’t send these every day, but once in a while they can be a nice change in their school snack .


Lunch Break:

  • Whole wheat sandwich with egg, omelette, tuna, cottage cheese, cheese (such as mozzarella or goat cheese), chicken breast or cold cut turkey plus vegetables. You can use a spread such as mustard or guacamole if you wish.
  • Whole wheat tortilla with omelette, beans (Mexican-style) or chicken strips plus spreads and fresh vegetables.
  • Tortilla pizza: Rolled tortilla with tomato paste and grated cheese (add olives if you’d like). Heat until cheese is melted.  Wrap in foil and send to school. It will not stay very hot during school hours, but will definitely be tasty. You can call it “quesadilla” or “rolled pizza.”
  • Toast: Two slices of whole wheat bread with tomato sauce, olives and grated cheese. Prepare in advance at home and wrap in foil to keep warm as long as possible.
  • Thermos with hot meal: A mix of meat and cooked carbohydrate. This meal is typically more suitable for older kids who have longer school days. For example:  chicken with rice or pasta, Bolognese sauce on spaghetti, turkey with couscous or
  • Cold pasta salad: pasta with feta cheese, tuna, olives and vegetables

Yael Dror is a Pediatric Nutritionist. She holds a Master’s degree in Physiology from Tel Aviv University and a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and most importantly, Yael is a mother of 3 active children.  Yael is a former professional athlete and is a co-founder of Habitz.