As the new year kicks off and holiday break fades into the distance, the challenge of packing healthy lunches each morning returns – ones that we enjoy, and ones that our children will actually eat. I’m a huge proponent of packed lunches for everyone – good nutrition leads to a better mindset throughout the day, and the old saying of “fail to plan, plan to fail” is never more appropriate when it comes to food.
Today I’ll share some ideas that can save you precious time and energy as you create healthy packed lunches everyone will love.
In terms of equipment, you will want to consider the following for each lunch:
- A lunchbox
- A thermos
- A sectioned container like a Bento box or a set of small lidded containers
- A reusable water bottle
Confession: I’m not so into the “food as art” movement for my kid’s lunches, because I just don’t have time for it. However, if you want to add a little flair to your lunches, a set of cookie cutters in cute shapes seems to be the most important tool. Those cutters are what enable you to make flower shaped sandwiches, heart shaped cheese cutouts and the like. I mean how cute is THIS?
Most importantly, you’ll want to follow this winning lunch formula:
High fiber carbohydrate + Lean protein + Vegetable and/or Fruit
Why? Carbs provide energy and those with lots of fiber keep us full the longest. Read labels on bread, crackers, pasta, noodles, bagels, etc. to maximize the grams of fiber.
Protein is for muscle building and satiety – good sources are chicken, turkey, ham, beans, hard boiled eggs, and beans.
Vegetables and fruits add a bevy of important nutrients. Mix up your choices so you don’t get bored – try raw, cooked, and a rainbow of colors.
Here are some ideas that fit the formula:
- Whole wheat noodles or pasta drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese, edamame in the pods, apple slices
- Whole wheat tortilla with melted cheese rolled up and cut, side of salsa for dipping, jicama or carrot sticks, banana
- Vanilla Greek yogurt with sides of granola, nuts and berries, celery sticks
- Whole wheat crackers with turkey and cheese, mango slices, salad greens with sliced veggies
- Whole wheat mini bagel(s) with cream cheese, mixture of nuts and dried fruit, cucumber slices with cherry tomatoes
- Chicken noodle soup in a thermos, sugar snap peas, strawberries, Greek yogurt
- Grilled chicken, chilled and sliced tossed with snap peas and sliced red peppers in a lemon juice and olive oil dressing, orange sections, whole wheat pita triangles
- Fresh fruit salad (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, grapes, strawberries, pineapple), Cottage cheese or yogurt, graham crackers (hard to find high fiber – it’s not important to be perfect!)
- Quinoa or whole wheat pasta or brown rice with cooked veggies and shredded cheese (keep warm in a thermos), a tangerine “cutie”, fresh blueberries and raspberries
- Leftovers! If you’ve served a healthy dinner, let it do double duty. Heat up a portion of leftovers and put it in a thermos/hot food container then add a fruit or vegetable
As for beverages, I use a reusable water bottle every single day – for variety you can add a splash of juice or use sparkling water. For the kiddos, Horizon makes shelf-stable organic milk in single serve containers that pack well and an Honest Tea juice bag makes a good special occasion choice.
By the way, I almost always add a small treat for my kids, too! A Hershey’s kiss, one or two Girl Scout Thin Mints, a Dove wrapped chocolate, or a 1″ square brownie. Nothing big and heavy, just a little bit of something sweet to end their meal. And if you know you’re going to want a sweet treat post-lunch, these one-or-two bite portions could stave off your craving for that venti mocha frappuccino run.
Here’s to being an example for the next generation of healthy eaters, and to making lunch something everyone can look forward to!
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Based on a post originally published August 13, 2015