It’s that time of year again when kids are heading back to school! Whether your child brings a packed lunch from home or buys a school lunch from the cafeteria, a healthy, balanced lunch is an essential component to a positive and successful school day. The beginning of the school year is a great time to start (or continue!) making healthy eating choices!
Kids consume up to half of their daily calories while at school. Therefore, a healthy school lunch should contain foods from all five food groups to ensure students are energized and ready to learn. Start by making small changes to your typical lunch to improve your eating habits.
Here are some tips on packing a healthy school lunch your child will enjoy eating:
- Find creative ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your lunch: In addition to being tasty and rich in vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables are a nutritious and affordable way to add variety and color into your child’s lunch. Some ideas include using cut up fruit instead of jelly on a peanut butter sandwich, letting kids dip their fruits and vegetables in yogurt or hummus, and packing freeze-dried fruits and vegetables as a crunchy alternative to chips.
- Switch up the sandwich routine: Instead of sliced bread, mix up the sandwich routine with a 100% whole-wheat tortilla wrap or pita bread. You can also try including new toppings such as carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, or zucchini into your sandwich. In addition, substituting avocado as a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise can add a different flavor, yet provide the same moist texture to your sandwich.
- Plan lunches together: When children are involved in the lunch-packing process, they’ll be more likely to enjoy and eat their lunch. If possible, have them help you in packing their lunch the night before. Go grocery shopping together as a way to encourage your children to pick out their favorite fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks.
- Keep it food-safe: Remember to keep food safety in mind when packing a school lunch! Keep lunches cold by including an icepack in an insulated lunch box.
Another option for lunch is to participate in the National School Lunch Program. The USDA standards mean that all school lunches include fruit, vegetables, whole-grains, and low fat or fat free milk. School lunch is a great way to ensure students are obtaining all the nutrients they need and consuming the adequate amount of fruits and vegetables in a day. For more information on school meals, visit the USDA website.
Check out this infographic from MyPlate to learn more about the benefits of a well-balanced lunch! For ideas on healthy foods to pack in your lunch box, visit the Dairy Council of California's website.