Packing School Lunches With a Healthy Punch

mommeal time

Packing healthy lunches for my kids is a huge challenge! As the school year has settled in, however, my kids and I are getting into a pretty good groove. Here are a few things I keep in mind when planning my kids' lunches. My ultimate goal each day is to make sure they're getting a nice balance of protein, carbs (healthy ones!) and fats. I also keep calcium, fruits and veggies (whenever possible) top of mind and limit sugar.

The Main Event

I always pack one main lunch item. In our family, it's most often a sandwich because that's what my girls like. I always use whole grain bread, the kind not made with trans fats or high fructose corn syrup, for the fiber factor. We usually have peanut butter and honey or jam. My girls also like chicken salad, which I make with mayonnaise and yogurt to up the health factor. If they've got fiber and protein, they're good to go!

Thermos-type containers are a good idea; they do a decent job of keeping food warm. Pasta or soup, which are good sources of protein and vegetables, makes for a great main lunch dish.

The Supporting Characters

While the main event doesn't change much day-to-day, I try to mix up the side items so my daughters don't get bored.

  • I send nuts and dried fruits, adjusting for each child's preference.

  • I also pick up fruit leathers and similar items that are made with 100% fruit. Different shapes and flavors keep it interesting.

  • Fresh fruit makes it into almost every lunch. Fruit is super portable, super tasty, and healthy. I wrap bananas in foil so their smell doesn't permeate everything else.

  • Yogurt is a frequent traveler in the lunchbox. I have some little ice packs that I pop in with it to keep it cold. My girls love yogurt and I love it because I know they're getting good bacteria, calcium and protein. You can also freeze the yogurts in plastic tubes; by the time lunch rolls around, they're defrosted but still cold.
  • I sometimes include pretzels or chips for a salty crunch. It's okay if done in moderation.
  • Veggies. Oh, veggies. Why do kids avoid veggies? I've been feeding vegetables to my little ones since day one and they are still inconsistent about eating them. I try to get those veggies into lunches, but they invariably come right back home at the end of the day! Still looking for suggestions on that one.

I'll Drink to That!

Kids need fluids. I generally pack water for my girls, but I also send plain milk as well. Drink thermoses keep everything surprisingly cold. I never send juice or flavored milk.

A Little Sweet Tooth

Dessert is not a bad thing; moderation is the key. My daughters know they have to eat the healthy food before they eat their treat, and they (usually) follow the rules. Sometimes a granola bar or a few sweetened mango slices counts for dessert. I like to make whole wheat chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, which taste great and have whole grains. I'm also loving these Stix in the Mud cookie clusters, which are made with whole grains as well.

For me, packing healthy lunches is all about nutrition, variation, and moderation. Please feel free to share your own tips for healthy lunches!

Jane Maynard, writer and founder of the food blog This Week for Dinner, is a wife, mother to two beautiful girls, and freelance graphic designer. Jane is also co-founder of SocialLuxe Lounge and recently co-hosted La Petite Soirée, an event for food bloggers, in San Francisco. Her newest adventure will be as the editor of Foodpress, which will be launched by WordPress at the end of October, 2010.

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