Written by Kari, Contributing Writer
With school starting soon and routines getting back in order, if your child attends school, packing a lunch is a part of that routine. I’m not sure about where you live, but the choices for ‘hot lunch’ are not acceptable at my daughter’s school, so everyday is a ‘cold lunch’ day. I understand the convenience of your child eating hot lunch at school, but the overall consequences are nothing short of disastrous.
And no, I’m not exaggerating.
Understanding where food comes from, how it’s made and what ingredients or chemicals are in the food, it’s not too hard of a decision to make your child’s lunch if you are proactive in your child’s health.
A year or so ago they even made a decision to make school food “healthier” by getting rid of all milk choices over skim and 1% milk. How is this healthier? I like to inform other parents, who are health conscious like me, that having your kids drinking this low-fat and fat-free milk does nothing but deprive them of necessary fats and spikes their insulin levels every time they drink it. Not a habit you want your body doing constantly.
And now that they are wanting to add aspartame to the flavored milk – that makes it even worse. I won’t even go into the fact that the milk comes from conventional cows that have been pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. But serving our kids this kind of milk isn’t helping the obesity issue nor the type 2 diabetes epidemic among our kids.
So…how as parents do we keep our children well-fed during school? How can we make it simple, yet not boring? How can our kids enjoy eating cold lunch while most kids around them are eating hot lunch?
Well, I’m in my 5th year of making my children lunches for school and I have a pretty good handle on what works for my kids on a day to day basis. Not all of my suggestions may work for you, your schedule or your child’s tastes, but it’s a good starting point and can spark ideas in you that you can successfully implement in your house to make sure your kids have a healthy lunch box too!
Some items I like to have on hand to make packing easier are:
- thermoses for hot meals
- various size Pyrex bowls with lids that little hands can take off easily, but are strong enough to not cause leaking
- reusable snack bags (I have cloth/canvas ones, but sometimes I still use regular old Ziploc bags)
- insulated lunch bag
- ice packs (I always stick these inside Ziploc bags in case they break or leak – and this has happened several times)
- reusable utensils and stainless steel water bottles
*If you don’t want to send your kids to school with glass (some ages this may not be realistic), then find plastic containers that are BPA-free.
A few rules about the contents:
1. Always have protein in the lunch.
This is good for stabilizing blood sugar levels and helps keep tummies feeling full longer. Good choices are cultured milk (like Kefir or Amasai), fish, beef, chicken, turkey, bison, raw cheese, eggs, raw leafy greens, beans, legumes.
2. Include healthy fats everyday.
Those healthy fats are so important for our kids. They assist with cell repair, hormone function, brain health and more. They will also keep your kids feeling full longer. Examples of healthy full-fat foods: avocados, full-fat plain yogurt, whole milk cottage cheese, whole milk, cheese, nuts, grass-fed butter, eggs, coconut oil, etc.
3. Good, energy giving carbs!
Those kids need energy so they aren’t falling asleep during their long days. Good carbs are fruits, beans, legumes, whole-grain grains (sprouted or soaked are best), blueberries, raspberries, chia seeds, flaxseed, almonds, honey, quinoa, etc.
4. Clean water.
Make sure they have good, clean water to drink while they’re at school. Most schools allow your child to have a water bottle at their desk – or at least access to their water bottles while they are in class. Having water as the beverage option is perfect in lunches, especially since lunch is either before or after recess – they’ll need to stay hydrated.
Here are a few ideas from my house:
This is always the easiest and most convenient. I cook healthy dinners, so they gets healthy lunches.
During the colder months, the crockpot is my friend. Sending warming and beneficial soups (like chicken noodle or vegetable soup) is a fun change for kids.
For those days when my kids just want a sandwich, they get a homemade spread of peanut butter, butter and raw honey on real sourdough bread, with some Enjoy Life! mini chocolate chips sprinkled on top. They love it!
Think summer sun pickles, slices of raw cheese, chips and homemade salsa, homemade banana bread, roasted chickpeas, etc.
My children get full-fat yogurt at least 3 times a week in their lunch. I add some raw honey, a tad bit of grade B maple syrup and chia seeds. Not only is this filling, but gives their immune system a good boost and will give them satiety and lasting energy.
Outside the box.
Have you tried cheese quesadillas? These take about 5 minutes to make in a skillet with tortillas, cheese and coconut oil. Fold in half, slice and put in a thermos so they stay warm. Pasta with meat sauce is always a winner. Noodles and butter with parmesan cheese. Sliced hard boiled eggs, raw cheese and crispy sourdough bites. Burritos and enchiladas are quick and easy and filling! We also do French toast, pancakes and waffles quite often. If we make any on the weekend, we make a bunch extra and freeze them, pop them in the oven while the kids are getting ready, prepare with grass-fed butter, grade B maple syrup, cut up in pieces and put into a thermos. It’s always a hit. You can also try homemade crispy chicken nuggets (grain-free, dairy-free, egg-free is an option) with a side of ranch dip made with yogurt and seasoning.
The possibilities are endless, especially if you do leftovers a lot. Just make sure you have some extra when you prepare meals and you’ll have a variety of lunch options for your child. Figure out what your child will and will not eat. How much time do they have for lunch?
If you put too much food in, it will most likely all come back home. If you find certain items they just won’t touch – exchange it for something else. I realized over four years that school lunches are a battle I choose not to fight. I can concentrate on certain items at home for breakfast and dinner or snacks rather than fighting everyday when they’re not getting consumed at lunchtime.
Try to stay away from controversial foods. By this I mean if your child drinks Kombucha – have them drink it at home instead of at lunch. Yes it’s healthy. No it’s not harmful. But we shouldn’t be those parents trying to ‘make a statement’ with items that may be controversial in the sight of the school leaders. Kombucha does contain small traces of alcohol – so leave it at home and pack water, milk (or dairy alternative) or spa water for a flavored water alternative. My daughter thoroughly enjoys her Black Cherry Chia Raw Kombucha – but she never takes it to school. Most of those above lunch ideas can be found in my cookbook, Real Food. Real Kitchen. So Good!
If you find your child feels left out when her classmates are eating pizza and cheeseburgers – then maybe you can plan a couple meals during the month where the leftovers she takes will be what her classmates will have for hot lunch, like pizza, just healthier versions. I’ve done this for my daughter and she was really appreciative that I did that for her.
Packing your child’s lunch doesn’t have to be a burden for you, nor does eating it have to be boring for them! My daughter gets more comments on her lunches and all the kids wish their mommy and daddy would make their lunch like hers! That’s a sign that kids are open for something new and creative when it comes time for lunch at school.
How do you make your child’s cold lunch fun and healthy?