Packing a Healthy Lunch
Now that we’re nearing the end of summer, the school year is right around the corner! For many that means dusting off the lunch box and thinking about what to pack for lunch. Although breakfast is widely known to be the “most important meal of the day,” lunch also plays an important part in providing vital nutrients and energy to keep you going for the rest of your day. Skipping lunch can lead to lack of concentration and low energy levels, as well as a tendency to overeat on unhealthy snacks later in the afternoon.
Packing a lunch can not only provide a delicious and healthful meal, but can be a big money saver. Some tips for packing healthy and satisfying lunch meals for children and adults include:
- Use portable containers — they come in all sizes and shapes, even for condiments like salad dressings
- Try batch cooking on the weekend to store up for the week
- Pack some things the night before- it only takes a few minutes!
- For adults- if you don’t have time to pack a lunch, keep some healthy non-perishable snacks at your desk or work area such as nuts, canned/dried fruit, popcorn
- Don’t be afraid to pack leftovers — sometimes meals are even better the next day!
- Stock up on healthy snacks at the grocery store
For kids, it is possible to pack a healthy meal they will enjoy! Keep in mind that kids definitely eat with their eyes. The more appealing a food or packaging looks, the more likely a child will want to eat it. Adding color or making food into fun shapes using cookie cutters are easy ways to make meals more interesting and enjoyable. Making a themed lunch by incorporating holidays or special occasions can also be a way to keep lunches exciting.
Always try to include fruits, veggies and whole grains. Basic items like sandwiches can provide a good opportunity to add some veggies, such as shredded carrots, sliced peppers, lettuce or spinach, for example. Make fruit into kabobs, add a fun yogurt dip for fruit, add hummus or salsa for dipping vegetables, or even use packaged fruits if more convenient. Foods like unsweetened applesauce and canned fruit with real fruit juice still provide a nutritious snack. Clementines and mandarin oranges are also portable fruit options that are easy to prepare and eat.
If your child is not into traditional sandwiches, be creative about different lunch options. Try wraps and roll-ups made with tortillas; sandwiches made with an English muffin or crackers in place of bread; protein salads made with cheese, nuts or beans; or sandwich fillings without the bread, such as a slice of lunchmeat wrapped around a cheese stick. Don’t be afraid to get your kids involved in the planning. If they help plan, they’re more likely to eat it. Just set up some ground rules, such as agreeing on including a protein, a grain, a fruit and veggie into each meal, and then they can choose their items from there. Set a good example by showing them how you pack your lunch.
Planning ahead goes a long way whether it’s for your own meals or your kids’ meals. Making a list for the grocery store and a list of meals for the week can be useful tools. Prepping and bagging items ahead of time can be helpful as well. Simply chopping up fruits and vegetables can be a timesaver the next day. Try to provide less processed foods. Travel-friendly foods are convenient for everyone — dried and fresh fruit, trail mix, popcorn, sliced veggies, whole grain crackers, peanut butter sandwiches, and string cheese are good staples to keep nearby. Just make sure to keep perishable items (including things like dips) in a cooler with ice to ensure food is kept cool and at a safe temperature. Also make certain to wash your hands when preparing the food, and be in the habit of washing all produce as well.
An added bonus for packing a lunch is that using reusable containers and bottles can help prevent unnecessary waste, so you could be helping the planet as well! Providing healthy packed lunches helps encourage kids and adults to avoid unhealthy choices, practice good portion control, and ensure you and your kids are getting a nutritionally complete meal.