Healthy School Lunches

For most parents mornings are a rushed affair. Preparing a healthy and tasty packed lunch that doesn't arrive at the end of the day squashed at the bottom of a book bag is a daunting task. With some careful planning, mornings can become a lot more relaxed and parents can go to work knowing they have provided a lunch that is satisfying and nourishing.

In many ways, younger children are easier to feed because they are not so influenced by their friends. Feeding children in higher grades is a challenge because they are very conscious of how they appear to their peers. Children want to fit in and munching into a rice ball and broccoli doesn't quite do it. Many of their friends will buy lunch or fill up on candy and chips. A parent's idea of a great lunch might be quite different to their child's. Often kids will only eat the snack, beg junk off friends or hit the vending machines. Many kids in high school opt to eat nothing at all.

It is important to listen and talk to your children about healthy eating and not to be too strict. The key is to make sure they are getting enough variety at home on a daily basis. When children have regular, balanced meals they can afford to enjoy a more simple lunch and relish those special treats now and again.

It is easier to provide a nourishing lunch when menus and ideas are planned in advance. Try to have a large selection of alternatives in your cupboards. Make sure to check out your local health store, as some products are not available in supermarkets.

Here are some ideas to help you create a great packed lunch:

  • Remember that kids want something tasty that can be eaten quickly.
  • Remember that parents want a meal that can be made quickly, but is also nourishing and healthy.
  • Plan lunches in advance. The major problem with lunch boxes is that they get terribly repetitive. If you are not organized, you end up stuffing the box with packets of crisps every day.
  • Make some things the night before so that mornings are less hectic.
  • Discuss lunch ideas with your kids first. Find out what sort of things they love and buy healthy alternatives that they feel comfortable with.
  • Look at the whole day instead of just lunch. Offer a nourishing breakfast. Make a big bowl of vegetables when they come home from school. Provide a variety of healthy dishes for dinner.
  • Include a grain, vegetable and fruit. Grains include breads and pastas.
  • At lunch include foods that are nutritious, fun and easy to eat.
  • Young children need a variety of healthy foods to provide them with different nutrients for their growing bodies. Leftovers from dinner are fine, if children enjoy them.
  • Foods will stay fresher and taste better if they're individually wrapped - waxed paper is easier for children to unwrap than plastic wrap. Save plastic containers from hummus or dips and re-use them for salads or cut fruit.
  • Make sure food stays fresh by using either a frozen drink or frozen freezer pack, and an insulated lunch box. Older children may prefer to take a brown paper bag and frozen juice box to keep their lunch cool.
  • Use organic ingredients where possible. This makes a huge difference to your child's health. Organic food is especially important for children because children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure. Pound for pound, children eat more food, drink more water and juices, and breathe more air than adults, and thus they take in more pesticides relative to their body weight. Their developing organ systems make children more sensitive than adults to exposure to toxic chemicals and less able to detoxify the chemicals.
  • Make the lunch fun. Provide colorful toothpicks, bendy straws, write a funny message or add stickers.
  • Talk to the teacher and see if she can have a healthy fruit and vegetable day each week where all the kids bring in their favorites.

Some great ideas for healthy lunches and snacks

  • The following fillings can be used between good quality bread, preferably organic and sourdough, pita bread or tortilla for those yummy wraps!
  • Remember to include a frozen fruit box to keep them chilled:
    • Hummus with finely chopped vegetables such as celery, lettuce, cucumbers and grated carrot. Ready made falafel can also be added.
    • Peanut butter and sauerkraut or peanut butter and finely sliced dill pickles. You can also try almond butter.
    • Peanut butter and jelly. Make sure both are natural and additive and sugar free.
    • Veggie burger with sugar free ketchup, lettuce and mustard.
    • Fried seitan sandwich with mustard and sauerkraut.
    • Fried tofu sandwich with mustard, tahini and grated carrot.
    • Fried tempeh with mustard and dill pickles.
    • Tuna mashed with tahini, olive oil, celery, grated carrot, onion, shoyu, lemon
    • Sardines mashed with tahini, olive oil, mustard, grated carrot, celery, shoyu, lemon
    • Fresh sweet corn, peas or other cooked vegetables can be added to wraps or pita.
    • Scrambled tofu can be added to pita with shredded lettuce and cucumber.
    • Tuna mixed with mayonaise (soy based spread).
  • Pasta, cous cous, noodle or brown rice salads with different vegetables, fried tempeh or tofu, toasted sesame seeds and a light dressing.
  • Corn or rice cakes.
  • Home made sugar free muffins such as corn, blueberry or apple.
  • Carrot, celery and cucumber sticks with peanut butter or brown rice vinegar packed in a separate container
  • Dill pickles.
  • Olives.
  • Raw Salad with a dressing packed in a separate container.
  • Dressings such as tofu dip, balsamic, peanut butter and umeboshi vinegar, lemon, salt and olive oil or brown rice vinegar, shoyu, orange juice and sesame oil.
  • Fresh Fruit salad from grapes, strawberries, orange, apple, raspberries, blueberries, melon.
  • Watermelon cut into pieces.
  • Orange slices.
  • Tangerines.
  • Apple, whole or sliced (preserved in lemon juice and wrapped in a unbleached paper towel to prevent discoloration).
  • Applesauce in small containers.
  • Organic sugar free tinned peaches or other fruit.
  • Small boxes of raisins.
  • Organic Fruit leather - these can cause teeth problems if eaten often but make for a great treat.
  • Home made or sugar free cookies.
  • Home made Rice Crispy treats.
  • Roasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or nuts - Avoid giving whole nuts to small children.
  • Organic Popcorn.
  • Cereals such as fruit juice flavored cornflakes.
  • Organic kettle chips are probably the best quality chips.
  • Boxed juices.
  • Sprint water.
  • Fruit kanten poured into small containers and chilled.
  • Smoothies made from amasake, fruit juice and fresh fruit blended together. Boxed rice milk can be used too.