As students get ready to go back-to-school, you may head to the grocery store to come up with healthy lunch box ideas. A nutritious lunch is important for everyone, but for students it can play an important role in learning. A study published in the Journal of School Health concluded children who had poor diets were more likely to perform poorly on tests. A healthy lunch can help a student maintain energy and concentration throughout the school day. Coming up with healthy lunch box ideas your kids will actually enjoy is not always easy. Consider some of the suggestions below.
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Keep It Balanced
Healthy lunch boxes for back-to-school should include nutrients such as protein, calcium and carbohydrates. When planning lunches, consider the major food groups including fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy. Although you may not always include items from each of the five groups, try to add foods from at least three or four of the major food groups. It can be easier than you think to combine food groups during lunch. For example, a sandwich on whole-grain bread with turkey and dark green lettuce and tomato provides a serving of vegetables, grains and protein.
Think Outside the Box
While sandwiches are standard lunch box fare and often a good choice, there are many other options for healthy lunches. For instance, whole-grain cereal in individual boxes with a small carton of milk may work. Boiled eggs, cheese sticks and whole-grain crackers are other good choices. Make sandwiches with mini whole-grain bagels or tortillas instead of bread. For a hot lunch, place soup or pasta in a thermos. Remember to keep lunches varied and try not to pack the same food every day.
Many individual sizes of items, such as granola bars, pudding and fruits snacks are sold, which are convenient to toss in a lunch box. Keep in mind, some of these foods are high in sugar and may contain trans fats. Healthier options include applesauce without added sugar, a piece of fruit or yogurt. If you do opt for pre packaged lunch items, read food labels and choose items which are low in saturated fats.
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Keep Safety In Mind
When you pack a lunch box for back-to-school, don’t forget about food safety. This includes proper handling, preparation and storage. Start with the right kind of lunch box. If possible, use an insulated lunch box, which will help cold foods stay cold and warm foods stay warm. Be sure to clean it out thoroughly. Spilled food can cause bacteria to develop in the lunch box. Clean with a disinfectant wipe at least once a week or more often if needed.
Keep cold food cold by using ice packs or freeze a bottle of water or juice the night before and pack it. Hot food also needs to be kept warm. Use insulated thermoses intended for hot foods. Make the food a little hotter than normal before placing it in the thermos. Check the thermos insert to determine how long it will keep food warm.
[Related – Making Healthier School Lunches For Your Kids]
Don’t Forget Healthy Snacks
Students may need a snack for a recess break, dessert after their lunch or to eat on their way home. Healthy snacks can keep hunger at bay between meals and prevent kids from heading to a vending machine for a soda or candy bar. Some ideas include veggie sticks and dip, peanut butter on celery, trail mix and apple slices. Keep personal taste in mind when packing snacks and remember portion size. Too large of a snack may prevent eating the main meal later.
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Make It Fun
Regardless of your age, if healthy food looks appealing you’re more likely to try it. This is especially true for children. For example, if kids see vegetables, they may not even give it a try, but if you make it fun and more appealing, they are more likely to give it a shot. Consider some of the following suggestions:
- Help younger kids use a cookies cutter to make vegetables into different shapes.
- Older kids may want to make healthy dips for veggies, such as salsa and hummus.
- Instead of an apple or whole price of fruit, make fruit kabobs or make a fruit salad.
- Switch out a whole sandwich for bite size ones instead.
- Have kids help decide what types of healthy food they want to try and make a game out of it.
For more tips, check out 10 Fun Tips For Getting Kids To Eat Vegetables.
Healthy lunch box ideas for back-to-school help keep energy level up, which facilitates learning. Remember, not all items you try may get a thumbs-up from your kids. Finding healthy foods, they will eat and enjoy may take some trial and error. Stick to the major foods groups, and watch out for high levels of saturated fat. Get creative and remember healthy eating habits start young.