Creating consistently healthy, varied and appealing lunchboxes is one of life’s greatest challenges. I can feel you cringing now at the very thought of preparing a satisfying, nutritious lunch that the kids will actually eat- not just for the day, but week after week, month after month, and oh my goodness, year after year!
However our dearly loved children, all so full of boundless potential, spend a great deal of their lives at school. Therefore We must never underestimate the value of investing thoughtfulness and time into preparing a lunchbox that nourishes their developing bodies and minds each day.
With food intolerances on the rise and entire food groups being forbidden in some schools, the lunchbox task has become even tougher. In spite of this, with a little thought and planning ahead, anyone can achieve a delicious and nutrient dense lunch box almost every day that children look forward to eating.
My 5 Simple Steps to Creating a Healthy Lunchbox:
1. Choose some fruit- Fruit is nature’s fast food, already conveniently packaged. Change fruits according to what is in season for varied and budget friendly lunches. Fruit salad is a tasty, fun and colourful option too.
2. Include some vegetables- vege sticks, salad, cherry tomatoes, olives, roasted veges and vege dips are simple to prepare and play ground friendly.
3. Decide on the main event- this is something substantial, and usually contains healthy protein and fats to sustain energy and satiate hunger. This may look like a tuna and avocado sandwich, quiche, last nights left overs in a thermos, brown rice sushi, plain organic yogurt with oats and berries or salad with chicken, egg or tofu.
4. Add a small wholesome treat- healthy pancakes, a muffin cake or cookie made with wholegrain flour and sweetened with whole fruit, and healthy raw chocolate balls made from raw seeds are all great choices.
5. Include a stainless steel drink bottle of water every day. It is important to educate children that water is what we reach for when we are thirsty, because no other liquid has the ability to cross the blood/brain barrier to maintain essential hydration of the brain.
Finally, step back and ask yourself- Is this lunchbox filled with foods from NATURE, that are at least 50% raw and LIVING such as fruits and vegetables, that will add to my child’s health and vitality?
Now that you know what to include, lets look at what we can aim to Avoid:
• Perhaps most importantly, aim to avoid the ‘pick-a-pack’ lunchbox- These are lunchboxes that are filled with a variety of processed foods including muesli bars, flavoured squeezy yogurts, fruit juice, biscuits, muffins and chips. Although they are branded with clever and enticing marketing ploys, they are usually loaded with harmful additives, sugars, colours, flavours and trans fats. Consider them empty calories with very little nutrition, and remember- if a third grader could not decipher the ingredients list, then it is not real food!
• Avoid refined produce such as white bread, wraps and rolls. Remember, if a child does not like wholegrain bread, it is usually only because white bread is an option. Instead opt for a high quality sprouted wholegrain bread, or authentic wholegrain sourdough. These are more digestible, nutritious and filling.
• Deli/luncheon meats -they contain a cocktail of chemicals to keep them looking ‘fresh’ and fit for human consumption. If you prefer meat in your sandwiches, left over chicken or tuna are healthier options.
• Avoid being sneaky- kids are clever detectives and are less likely to eat something if they feel you have tried to deceive them. Instead educate and encourage them, this will inspire them to want to eat healthy!
Some extra helpful tips to consider when planning for a healthy lunchbox:
A wide mouthed thermos is your best friend. Consider planning main meals around lunchtime leftovers.
Always use an insulated lunchbox and throw in a couple of ice packs for safe, fresh food.
Bake wholesome treats in large batches and freeze. Lunchbox portions usually defrost nicely by the time lunchtime comes around.
Have a stash of emergency foods on hand -baked beans, plain organic popcorn, brown rice crackers and miso soup all have a great shelf life for those unprepared days.
Use avocado in place of other spreads- mash or drizzle with a little lemon or lime juice to prevent the avocado from discoloring.
Make extra brown rice or quinoa the night before for sushi or rice paper rolls. These are just as easy to roll as making a sandwich, they are gluten free and any tasty filling goes.
Mild tasting vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach and carrot are ideal to start kid’s on.
Adding left over, naturally sweet roasted vegetables like pumpkin or sweet potato to sandwiches, wraps and salads can be delicious too.
A product labeled ‘natural’, ‘sugar free’, ‘no additives’ or ‘low fat’ are often red flags. Learn how to read food labels so you can avoid these clever marketing tricks.
GMO food is on the rise, and so are studies confirming the devastation they cause to the health of human beings and the planet. Stay informed and keep your child’s lunchbox GMO free.
Cling wrap contains harmful additives. Opt for BPA free or stainless steal containers or reusable sandwich wraps available in health food stores.
Get a helping hand. Kids will more likely eat what they helped prepare.
If pressed for time prepare the lunchbox the night before.
Include a little love note telling them how wonderful they are to brighten their day and confidence.
The most toxic ingredient is anxiety, guilt and stress! Feeling excluded and ostracized can cause more harm than sharing an occasional treat with classmates.
Know they have been nourished no matter what happens at lunchtime by bookending their day with a healthy breakfast and dinner.
I hope that you feel empowered with some extra inspiration, tools and renewed energy for creating wholesome, delicious and nutritious lunch boxes for your children. With this commitment we can all achieve a brighter, happier and healthier future for our children.