Q. Here we go, another school year and I’m already out of ideas when it comes time to pack a lunch for my son. Can you give me some tips so that the lunch I pack is varied and nutritional? I do want my son to actually eat it! Or should I consider lunch made at school?

paper sack lunchA. Sending your kids to school with a nutritious lunch can be a challenge. You’re pressed for time, your kids have picky palates, and you’re trying to watch expenses. So, you consider the school lunch program. Yet, with this comes the concern that the school lunch may be inadequate – typically low in nutritional value with sugary and fat-laden desserts included in most options. While many school districts are improving the nutritional value of lunch served at school, you can guarantee the nutritional value of what your child eats if you pack his lunch.


Tips for healthy lunch-packing success

This week, find time to sit it down as a family and make two lists. The first is a list of meal ideas. Divide the list into four categories:  Main course, fruit, veggie and healthy treat. Under each category have your kids list 10 to 15 preferences for each.

For example:

  • Main course: Turkey or hummus sandwich, organic chicken nuggets, or pasta salad
  • Healthy treats: Whole grain pretzels, fruit leather or homemade pumpkin muffins
  • Fruit: Grapes, cherries, applesauce, ‘cuties’, or raisins
  • Veggies: Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, edamame, celery w/almond butter

Next is the grocery list. This list should contain everything needed to make the agreed upon meal ideas.  If you have the set list, this will make grocery shopping easy and efficient.

The entire process gives your children ownership of what they eat, and they’ll be proud of what they’ve created when they actually see it show up in their lunch. This will also prevent them from getting bored, and will minimize “trading” with other kids for unhealthier options.

Try something new

Here are some new products I’ve found that are widely available, and pretty darn healthy.

  • Single-serving size PopChips – These have one-third the fat of regular chips – never fried, never baked, just popped and packed with flavor
  • Stretch Island Fruit leathers – All natural, 100 percent fruit
  • Peter Rabbit Organic Fruit Puree Pouches – They contain 100 percent organic fruit with no added sugar or artificial ingredients – fun flavors like mango and banana
  • KIND Bars – All natural whole nut and fruit bars made from ingredients you can see and pronounce – fun flavors like apple pecan and cranberry almond
  • Justin’s Almond Butter pouches – Single pouch servings of all natural nut butters to include almond, hazelnut and peanut – great source of protein and healthy fat
  • Oroweat Sandwich Thins – Choose the multi-grain option that’s high in fiber and no high fructose corn syrup – great for kids that don’t like the crust
  • Hormel Natural Choice Deli Meats – The great-tasting, all-natural products you can feel good about eating and serving. No preservatives, artificial ingredients or MSG. No nitrites or nitrates added. And they’re gluten free, too.

Plan, plan, plan

Pick a day every week/weekend to plan lunches for the following week.  Make it a healthy HABIT to go to the store once a week to buy the items necessary. When you have everything stocked in your refrigerator and pantry, you’ve won half the battle!

For one thing, consider waking up 10 minutes earlier than your normally do.

You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in those 10 minutes.  If you’ve done step 1, and can refer to your lists and have all the food available, then actually putting the meal together will take 10 minutes or less.

If you decide school lunch is your best option every day, then add the nutrition at breakfast, snacks and dinner.  Breakfast should consist of a whole grain and protein source such as wheat toast and a piece of string cheese or hard-boiled egg.  Snacks should include fruit, and evening meals must include at least one vegetable.

Get more information

I also use the recipe ideas at www.laptoplunches.com. This site has a menu library of more than 365 meal ideas ~ and you can also sign up to receive a weekly lunch menu. For more recipes and more ideas on providing healthy meals for your family, please contact Julie at juliehammerstein@gmail.com or visit www.juliehammerstein.com, or post a comment. And watch Hammerstein being interviewed on Colorado’s Everyday Show.