Like many health-conscious parents, you may have been packing school lunches for your kids for years. And that makes sense, considering that not all school cafeterias are famous for their fresh, organic, plant-based meal options. Some programs have improved, but still may not cater to kids who are gluten- or lactose-intolerant, vegetarian, vegan or have other specific dietary needs.
Bringing lunch from home ensures that your kids will have foods they enjoy that you can also feel great about.
So, when should kids start making their own lunches? Teaching them to do so sooner rather than later has many benefits. For one, it creates a golden opportunity for them to learn more about healthy nutrition.
Also, getting comfortable preparing fresh, whole food for ourselves—as opposed to falling back on convenience products—is an empowering skill to learn, and will serve your children well for many years to come. Consider the following six tips for raising health-minded, school-lunch-packing kiddos!
1. Discuss what they like
Get a sense of what your children want to eat during the school day. For example, some kids like a big lunch while others prefer lighter fare. Many are amenable to veggies or salad, as long as these items can be kept fresh.
To that end, packing foods in chilled carriers can really help. If kids will eat fruit, which is energizing and easy to digest on-the-go, you can stock seasonal choices that appeal to them, ideally choosing organic whenever possible. The more you know about their school lunch preferences, the more effective you can be when shopping.
2. Encourage balance
Some kids may be inclined to take shortcuts when packing a lunch, like merely tossing in chips and a drink, especially if they are in a rush. And yet, they would ideally have some high-quality protein, whole food carbs and healthy fat for a nourishing midday meal to feed their growing brains and bodies.
To ensure they have energizing choices, while also making assembly easy for them, you can offer healthy, substantive grab-and-go items like protein bars. It’s easy now to find nutritious, plant-based options most kids will love, such Vega’s All-in-One meal bar, or maybe Go Raw’s Grow bars, which are organic and packed with protein.
3. Upgrade the sandwich
Kids often prefer sandwiches as they are filling and easy to eat when time is limited. And yet, that doesn’t mean they should feel locked into the usual peanut butter or cheese combos.
Creative possibilities abound! You might suggest almond or cashew butter in lieu of peanut butter, for example, or making a “vegwich” by layering bread with hummus, avocado, red bell pepper, grated carrot, sprouts or spinach. Kids can also make fun, easy wraps by rolling healthy spreads and veggies in a whole-grain or gluten-free tortilla.
4. Accommodate the grazer
While sandwiches are a popular go-to, some kids either don’t like them, or simply prefer an array of snack items instead. If your child falls into the latter category, you will want to ensure that they have plenty of tasty staples to work with that collectively add up to a healthy lunch.
A balanced array of nibbles might include peanuts, kale chips, trail mix, vegan or organic dairy cheese, a crisp organic apple, banana or grapes, homemade organic fruit roll-ups, hummus or bean dip with baked chips or nutritious seed crackers, protein bars, granola or other substantive, filling munchies.
5. Stock what they need
You might want to dedicate a pantry shelf for kid’s lunches so they can easily source their preferred staples on busy mornings. Snack and sandwich bags make for easy packing, but that doesn’t mean you have to rely on plastic. There are so many ways to make waste-free school lunches.
Many companies now offer eco-friendly supplies including lunch bags, totes, bottles and more. Consider a planet-friendly lunchbox with handy containers for snacks and beverages like this BPA-free Enviro lunch bag. If your kids prefer to brown bag it, these biodegradable sandwich and munchie bags definitely come in handy.
6. Encourage hydration
Making sure children are well hydrated is important for their health as well as concentration in school. As they may not always drink when they should, reminding them to include healthy beverages in their lunches is a good idea.
You might suggest organic, low-sugar juice boxes, stevia-sweetened sodas, or sugar-free sparkling water beverages. Lunch-box sized soy or almond milk in original, vanilla or chocolate are yummy, protein-rich additions too. And of course, kids should tote along a BPA-free container of filtered or distilled water to sip throughout the day.
Making an effort to help kids get comfortable preparing their own healthy lunches pays off on many levels. It’s certainly easier on the adults, but more importantly, it enables kids to be more happily self-sufficient, which is one of the best skills any parent can foster!