5 Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches

One thing I think most parents dislike about the return to school is having to once again pack lunches.

Packing lunches doesn't have to be painful.

Packing lunches doesn’t have to be painful.

Here are 5 things that you can do to make packing lunches easier.

One: Plan

Just as with most things in life, you are more successful when you have a plan. By creating a list before you go to the store you are sure to have what you need for the coming week. There’s nothing more discouraging to reach for a sandwich bag and find an empty box.

Two: Prep Work

Once you get home with your groceries take a few minutes to clean your produce. Not only will this help you with lunches, it will help with dinner and easy snack choices. So often we don’t reach for the healthy option because it’s more convenient to grab something prepackaged.

Three: Do it the Night Before

If your home is anything like ours, mornings are hectic. Don and I are both out the door with the sunrise to get to the gym and when we get home there are many stages of getting ready happening with our three children so the kitchen can get a little crowded in the morning from everyone trying to get their breakfast. (Yes, I make my children get their own breakfast.)

This is why we have moved lunch prep to the evening. Once dinner is cleaned up the lunches are packed and put in the fridge. This not only helps minimize the kitchen chaos in the morning, in the event that an alarm doesn’t go off, we aren’t scrambling to take care of another task we don’t have time for.

Four: Get the Kiddos Involved

So I mentioned above that my children make their own breakfasts, well, they also make their own lunches. My husband and I set ground rules for their lunches:

  • A source of protein – deli meat (you don’t necessarily have to make a sandwich, wrap deli meat in a slice of cheese) yogurt or gogurt (can also double as an ice pack if placed in the freezer and put in the lunch box in the morning), cheese (string cheese or other cheese sticks are always yummy)
  • A serving of veggies – carrots and celery can be the easiest but go with what your child likes, avoid sending dipping sauces for veggies if possible, help them discover the true taste of the food
  • A serving of fruit – each of my children prefers different fruits, one great tip for sending apples is cut them up and wrap the slices around the core in press and seal – they won’t brown
  • A small treat – if it is a cookie, it’s one or two depending on the size, if it’s candy, it’s one fun size piece, you get the idea
  • A bottle of water – juice boxes and other drinks can be expensive and high in sugar, drop the cost and the sweetness for a good old drink of water

We double check their lunches each night to make sure they didn’t forget anything or try to pull a fast one on us. This process not only teaches them responsibility, it teaches them about food and what a balanced lunch looks like and healthy portion sizes.

Five: Take Control

And while our children certainly have food preferences, we have the power to make sure their lunches are filled with quality nutrients. You know I’m not opposed to a small treat, but the entire lunch shouldn’t be a ‘treat.’

If you currently struggle with getting your child to include fruits or veggies in their lunch start with one of them (preferably a veggie). Let them make the choice, oddly enough my son will choose broccoli over carrots or celery if it’s an option. If they have the power they will be more likely to eat the food. By slowly introducing the changes you have a better chance at success.

So before you hit the store this weekend, make a list. When you get home, prep the produce and enlist the kids to help. Talk to your family about the benefits of packing lunches the night before and start empowering your kiddos to make positive food choices by packing their own lunches. Here’s to another great school year!

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Reading the Labels

So how many of you actually read the food labels on boxed and canned items? If you’re not taking the time to read what you are putting in your body, chances are very likely you are making some pretty unhealthy choices with food.

Let’s work from top to bottom on a food label and discuss the major areas you should focus on when deciding on a food.

First check the serving size and number of servings in the container. There are a number of products that you may consume every day that have more than one serving in their packaging: Vitamin Water, soda, canned soups, chips, etc. Knowing the serving size is important because it’s possible to consume double or maybe even triple the amount of calories without knowing.

You should also pay attention to the portion of calories that are “from fat.” You certainly want to make sure that the majority of calories are not attributed as fat calories.

It goes without saying that it’s important to keep both saturated and trans fats to a minimum. Both types can clog your arteries and lead to a number of health problems including obesity and heart disease.  I caution you about “fat free.” Just because it is “fat-free” doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want!

You will also notice that the “% Daily Values” column. The numbers in this column are calculated based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. These values are just an estimate but provide you with a good guideline to know how much of the daily allowances you are consuming with a portion of that food.

Another dangerous ingredient often found in pre-packed foods is sodium. Healthy adults should not exceed 2,300 mg of sodium per day and anyone with high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes should try and keep their consumption to around 1,500 mg per day. Take a good look at the listing of sodium on some of your favorite packaged products and I think you might re-think that purchase.

When it comes to sugar a good rule of thumb is the more sugar the more calories. Keep your sugar consumption to a minimum. Many fruits and even vegetables contain natural healthy sugars. What you want to avoid is the white granular sugars and thick syrups that are added to food to preserve the product and enhance taste.

Dietary fiber found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes has a variety of positive health benefits including normalizing bowel movements, lowering blood cholesterol levels and controlling blood sugar levels. Depending on age and gender you should consume 21 – 38 grams of fiber per day.

When it comes to protein many Americans far exceed the recommended daily amount. Depending on your sex, age and gender you need between 40 and 70 grams of protein per day.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are some foods that you can’t avoid buying pre-packaged so tomorrow I’ll give you some advice on the types of ingredients to look for and those to avoid when it comes to purchasing manufactured foods.

 

Fill Your Tank

Last week I focused on giving you some tips for identifying a path to success by finding your motivation, creating goals to keep you accountable and rewarding yourself when you achieve milestones.

Now it’s time to focus in on what you are putting in your body as you work towards those goals.

There is not a complicated science behind which food are good for you and which ones you should avoid – despite what the ever changing headlines tell you about foods.

It’s as simple as this:

–      If it came from the ground or has a mother you should eat healthy quantities of it.

–      If it is made in a building and has ingredients you can’t pronounce, you should avoid it as much as possible.

All groceries are set up the same; produce, proteins and dairy around the perimeter with all of the manufactured goods in the center. Keep your grocery carts out of the center of the store as much as possible.

 

Every healthy type of essential nutrient can be found in fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. Your body needs these nutrients to function properly and to fight off disease.

When we fail to give our bodies healthy nutrients and rather fuel ourselves with manufactured products, we are missing out on the essential nutrients that keep us healthy and active.

Undoubtedly there are some items that you cannot avoid purchasing in the center aisles of your grocery. Tomorrow I will write more specifically on what things to watch for on those labels and how to make healthy choices.