If you’re like me and have school aged kids then you’re likely having to come up with something to feed them for lunch while they’re at school. To make matters worse, it’s highly possible that you are not only having to actually feed the little buggers, you’re having to come up with something that they’ll actually eat after they’ve sat on it for half an hour on the bus, used it as a football at recess, and then left it to marinate in its own juices for quite a few hours. Not an easy task.
Before you get your keys and head straight to the Lunchables aisle at your local grocery store read on. Lunches don’t have to be a headache. They don’t even have to be hard. They can certainly be a challenge though, so get your game face on, it’s time to play ball!
5 Components of a Healthy School Lunch
1. Keep it simple – The truth is that kids like plain and simple. They have very acute taste buds and too many flavors often don’t taste good to them. Kids don’t need a gourmet lunch. They also don’t need a ton of variety. Just because you are tired of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches doesn’t mean your kids are tired of eating them. Don’t complicate things. If they’re happy then stick with a good thing while you can.
2. Appealing– Nobody wants to eat a smashed sandwich with banana mush for lunch. That’s just not appealing. Feeling sated (full and satisfied) isn’t just about what you eat, it’s also about the way the food looks and smells.
3. Contains a minimal amount of pre-packaged foods– Americans love pre-packaged foods. It seems these days taking the time to cut an apple is just beyond our capacity. It’s so much easier to throw a bunch of packages in a bag and call it “lunch.” Fortunately there are healthier pre-packaged choices out there (see below).
Keep in mind packaging and loss of nutrients. How long has it been since those apples were cut? What kind of a preservative was sprinkled on them so they wouldn’t brown? How long have they been sitting in a plastic bag (which are known to leach toxic chemicals, especially when exposed to acids- such as apples and citrus based preservatives)?
Whole foods are always better. I generally cut up veggies on Sundays and Wednesdays and keep them on a paper towel lined container in the fridge. Each morning I grab a variety, throw it in a reusable bag and done! Fruits are fine to cut the night before. Sprinkle with lemon or pineapple juice to keep from browning.
4. Affordable- Many of us are on a budget and all these lunches can add up. Keeping them affordable is important!
5. Staying power- Staying power is so important. Our kids often go a good 4 hours between meals (less if they are in preschool and kindergarten) so that snack and lunch better be super powered if it’s going to keep those little brains chugging along until they get home.
What foods taste good, give us staying power, are quick and easy to prepare, are whole foods based, and appealing and affordable?
Healthier pre-packaged school lunch ideas:
Salami- Many people think of pepperoni when I mention salami, but the truth is that they are very different foods. Salami is a cured meat, one that has been around for centuries. It is generally shelf stable (before opening), and is an excellent combination of fat and protein. Because toxins are generally stored in the fat cells, it is essential to eat high quality animal fat. Buy the best you can afford, and that tastes good to your family. My family prefers Columbus brand that I purchase at Trader Joe’s or Costco. It’s not perfect, but as with everything, it’s what we’ve compromised on!
Hummus- Often times thought of as a “dip,” this garbanzo bean based creamy concoction is very versatile. High in protein and fat, hummus can be used as a spread on sandwiches and tortilla roll-ups, as a salad dressing, in combination with veggies as a dip, or straight off the spoon (just a few bites though, think “condiment.”).
Olives- Black, green, brown, or red, any olive will do. Although reading the back of the can or jar will leave you thinking “What’s in these little suckers?” Olives are actually high in fat (hence olive oil) and surprisingly filling. Next time your little ones are starving and dinner isn’t ready give them one for each finger on one hand (rinse first to get rid of some of the salt as olives are often high in sodium). Pop a couple in your mouth too. You’ll be surprised just how well they hold you.
Beef Jerky– I’ve brought out beef jerky at many a school field trip, and it never fails that I end up with the entire bus full of kids crowded around me begging for a piece of beef jerky. Why, you ask? Is it because beef jerky just tastes great? Maybe. However, after attending many of these field trips and seeing what kids are fed for lunch these days, I truly believe that kids are protein and fat deficient. They are given a load of sugary carbs in their lunches, and they are literally dying for a hunk of protein. Just like with any meat, buy the best quality you can afford, or better yet, make your own! Buy organic beef jerky here.
Avocado– Avocados are not only a powerhouse in the world of food, they are the ultimate grab and go snack food. Already “pre-packaged” just slice in half, add a sprinkle of salt, grab a spoon and you’re on your way! Half of a large avocado (eaten alone) keeps me feeling satiated for a good 2 hours. Learn more about avocado in my article Avocado: How to peel, eat and store.
Please share your favorite School Lunch Ideas in the comments section below!