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4 Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches

Too soon to be thinking about packing healthy school lunches? Not at all. Make this the year you’re ready ahead of time rather than setting yourself up for total mayhem when the school year begins. One of the biggest challenges on a daily basis will be how to ensure your children eat a nutritious lunch when they are at school. Most public schools offer a free daily lunch, yet many kids reject the selections offered (“because they’re gross Mommy!”) and snack on foods that provide nothing but empty calories instead. To ensure your child gets the energy they need for a day of learning, here are four tips for packing delicious and nutritious school lunches that are simple to prepare.

1. Routine Matters

kids225Make packing a healthy lunch for your children part of the daily routine. Ensuring they leave with a nutritious lunch may give you peace of mind that they are not filling up on junk, and it might even improve how they learn. A 2014 study revealed that children who do not get proper nutrition during the day typically have lower test scores and have difficulty retaining what they had learned.

“But my mornings are crazy, I have no time to pack lunches!” Fair enough. One option could be to set aside some time the night before to prepare meals. This gives you plenty of time to create fun and healthy meals that will have time to chill in the fridge overnight. Consider including your kids in the process so they can choose the foods they enjoy the most and to cut down on food waste.

2. Nix Nitrates…yes, even bacon.

While sliced lunch meat like baloney and ham make for simple sandwiches, they are typically packed with sodium and nitrate that is used to preserve cured meats. The ingestion of too much sodium can lead to bloating and lethargy, which can have a negative impact on your child’s learning and activity during the second part of the school day. Substitute fresh chicken or turkey for cured lunch meat in the form of a salad or put them in a wrap for an on-the-go lunchtime treat.

Keep in mind that nitrate is not just limited to cured lunch meats. Sausage, bacon, and hot dogs all contain it as well. Avoiding pre-packaged lunches and snacks can help nix this potentially harmful preservative.

3. Dress Up Celery and Carrot Sticks

carrotscelerydip225While veggie sticks are simple to pack in any lunch, chances are that your kids will not find them very exciting, and this may cause them to pass them up for a share of their friends’ ice cream or chips. However, there are several ways you can make these healthy choices look more appetizing. Consider stuffing celery sticks with sunflower or almond butter, which usually has less fat and sugar than regular peanut butter. Pair carrot sticks with hummus or a small container of Just Italian Dressing from Hampton Creek, which contains no trans-fat, for dipping.

Carrot sticks and celery can also be cut into fun shapes for younger children to enjoy. For example, you can create carrot curls or slice them into circles. If you want to pair both veggies into one meal, create an edible grasshopper by using a stuffed celery stick, for the body, pieces of pretzel twist for the legs, two raisins for the eyes, and two small carrot sticks for the antennae. Not only is this a delicious and amusing treat, but they are perfectly portable for a school lunch as well.

4. Include a Healthy Drink

Sometimes, added sugar and preservatives can be found in the most unexpected places, such as in drink pouches and juice. Even those that are labeled as being 100 percent juice still may contain quite a bit of natural sugar. If you want to include low-sugar drink options for your children’s lunches, consider lightly-sweetened water, unsweetened, home-brewed tea, and low-fat milk.

While canned sodas are a convenient option for a packed lunch, most non-diet options can contain up to 40 grams of sugar per a twelve-ounce serving. Not only can the consumption of too much soda cause a sugar crash in the late afternoon, it can contribute to weight gain and other health issues. These drinks are best saved as a rare treat and not a part of your child’s daily diet plan.

Creating healthy school lunches for your children on a daily basis can be a challenge. However, when you follow the above tips and take the time to plan and be creative, both you and your children are sure to enjoy the results.

Disclosure: We partnered with Hampton Creek for this post.