Pack a Healthy Lunch for School
The following is an interview with Whitney Gerschke MS CCH, Healthy Child’s nutrition advisory board member, on packing an appealing and fun, healthy kids lunch box for school:
What are the healthiest foods to pack in our kid’s lunches?
A healthy lunchbox is full of:
• Colorful foods
• A variety of foods from all groups (proteins, fruits & vegetables, and whole grains)
Some lunchbox gems are quinoa, kale chips, hard-boiled eggs, berries, grape tomatoes, trail mix, sliced apples with almond butter (if there is not a nut restriction), sugar snap peas, hummus, and avocado & cucumber sushi rolls.
What foods should we stay away from when packing a healthy lunch?
The big food no-no we want to stay away from are foods high in sugar and additives. When kids are in school, they have more restrictions, they need more focus, and they need to be able to sit still. Foods that are highly processed and full of ingredients like dyes and sweeteners are far too over-stimulating for kids’ brains and bodies. These foods do not support them in learning, absorbing information, thinking, and having a positive experience in school. To know if the food is a good choice, check the label for the ingredients and sugar content, or better yet, buy foods without labels (veggies, fruits, meats)!
How can we make healthy foods more appealing to our kids so they will want to eat them and be less tempted by the junk foods they see other kids eating?
Cute things up! Get cute with the lunchbox by using crafts supplies, fun toothpicks, cookie cutters, cloth napkin, flowers, a note from you, and stickers to make lunch feel interesting, fun, and full of love. Shapes matter! Add a smile to their day by cutting food into a shape with a cookie cutter. If it makes your little one happy and eat healthy food you have packed with a smile, the extra 20 seconds are worth it.
It doesn’t end there though, kids like things their size, so cube things, make them mini or buy the mini.
Examples of cubed fun is:
• rotisserie chicken,
Minis are sometimes pre-made (rolls, bagels, crackers) but there is always a mini possibility when making your own healthy muffins or sandwiches.
Finally, don’t forget about dips! Kids love to dip foods, so provide that in their lunch. This also means finger foods, which kids love. Some great dips to consider are salsa of all kinds (mango, pineapple, tomato), hummus, nut spreads (if allowed), and salad dressings. When considering adding a dip, take into account their age and eating situation, we want to make sure that the dip is a fun delight, not a stress for them. If you think a dip will be too messy or cumbersome, save it for a snack at home.
What are some healthy drinks to pack with lunch that will be appealing to kids?
Fruit water is a really fun way to get some flavors into water without sugar. It is also refreshing, looks really pretty, is quick, and can always be a different combination depending on what fresh herbs and fruits you have handy. To make it, cut up a fruit like some strawberries, or cucumbers, etc. and add to a pitcher of water along with some herbs finely chopped. Put in the fridge or leave out for a room temperature water. Pitcher can be re-filled a few times. Discard after three days, or when it gets funky.
Fruits that are delicious for fruit water: any really, but some of my favs are strawberries, cucumber, watermelon, peaches, lemons, and oranges.
Fresh herbs that are delicious for fruit water: again, any will do, but some favs are rosemary, basil, mint, catnip, and lemon balm.
Cucumber Strawberry Water: Combine ½ of a cucumber & as many strawberries as you would like in a big water pitcher. Put it in the fridge & enjoy!
Lime mint cucumber water: Combine ½ of a cucumber, chop a sprig of mint, and squeeze a few lime wedges into a big water pitcher. Put it in the fridge & enjoy!
Lemon balm & peach
Bubbly water can be made with fruit too, or can be drank plain for a soda alternative.
Any of the following herbal teas are safe for kids older than a year and can be made iced or warm, loose or pre-made in tea bags: lemon balm, lemongrass, ginger, chamomile, mint, rosehips, hibiscus, honeybush, rooibos, tulsi, oats, cinnamon, nettles, raspberry leaf, catnip, linden, red clover, roses, lavender, marshmallow root
To make the tea: Boil water. In a heat-proof glass jar or pitcher add a herbs. Pour in boiling water and let sit until the jar is no longer hot to the touch. Serve to kids or put in the fridge for ice tea & enjoy!
Tea amounts for kids: 1tsp-1tbsp per cup steep 5-15 minutes
Tea amounts for adults: 1 tbsp per cup steep 20 minutes (or longer if desired)
Nice blends include:
Lemon balm, lemongrass, & ginger
Honeybush, hibiscus, rosehips
Chamomile mint lemon
Awesome Kid Tea at Rebecca’s: lemon balm, catnip, & chamomile
Linden basil honey
How can I pack a healthy lunch when I don’t have much time?
- Create a healthy lunch plan for the week and have all of those items on hand, this way we avoid the stress of “What am I going to pack today?”
- Pre-chop fruits and vegetables in the beginning of the week.
- Place food portions for meals in bags or containers ahead of time: things like crackers, fruits, cheese portions.
- Use frozen vegetables in a pinch if running low on fresh produce.
- Use left-overs from the night before.
- Make lunch while you are making another meal, like breakfast in the morning or dinner the night before.
Any other advice for making healthy lunches?
The main elements needed to create healthy lunch day in and day out are:
• Thoughtful approach
Remember: You can do it! Find out what works for you and stick with it. Stay inspired by reading recipes, trying new foods, and looking at other lunchboxes Moms post online.