Tips to building a balanced lunchbox

The new school year is upon us whether we are ready or not. This time of year brings excitement for some and stress/anxiety for others. For most of us, it brings added activities to our calendar. It can be tempting to set our nutrition on the shelf and go through the drive through or order takeout because who really has time or energy to prepare healthy meals when we spend most of the time somewhere besides our kitchen?

First let’s talk about why it is important to keep good nutrition high on your list of things to do and then we will get into the tips and tricks of how to keep it simple.

Good nutrition is important at every age. Carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits, and starches give our body energy, protein provides the building blocks for building and repairing muscles and fat is essential for healthy joint health and brain function. Children are still growing and their bodies are still developing and it is our responsibility as adults to give them the fuel their bodies need to grow and function at their best. Children will do the things they see the adults in their lives doing. The habits they develop in youth will carry over into their adult lives, for better or worse.

Now let’s get practical, how do we build healthy lunchboxes and still keep our sanity?

Tip #1 FOLLOW THE PLATE METHOD

What is the plate method? It is choosing to fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, a quarter of your plate with protein and a quarter of your plate with starch.

Figure out which veggies and fruits your family likes to eat. Make sure you purchase these at the store. Spend some time on the weekend cutting up veggies and fruits. You can put these into individual serving size containers or a large container for each so they are easy to grab when assembling lunch boxes.

Figure out some easy proteins that your family enjoys; deli meat, hard boiled eggs, cheese and yogurt are just some examples. These can be put on a sandwich of whole grain bread (or bagel or waffle or tortilla) or they can just be finger food.

Finally, if you haven’t created a sandwich as your starch, figure out what your family likes and have it on hand. Whole grain crackers, baked pretzels or any of the breads I mentioned above.

You can include something to dip the veggies in such as low sugar salad dressing or hummus or peanut butter if it will help make lunch time more enjoyable.

The choices are endless. Variety is the key. Try foods out and figure out which ones work best for your family.

Here is a chart that may help you come up with some new ideas.

Tip #2 MAKE WATER THE BEVERAGE OF CHOICE

Dehydration can lead to difficulty paying attention or staying on task, fatigue, headaches and mood swings to name a few. Kids are especially vulnerable to dehydration because of their high activity level and they have not yet learned to identify when they are thirsty.

Sugary and/or caffeinated drinks tend to have a dehydrating rather than a hydrating effect on our bodies.

There are so many fun water bottles available, letting your child choose their own and maybe even having them fill it in the morning will encourage them to participate in the process of drinking water.

If the taste of water is not appealing, perhaps try adding a little bit of fruit or some herbs to give it some flavor.

Tip # 3 GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED

Ask your kids what foods they like. Invite them to be a part of the planning process. When it is time to pack the lunchboxes, get out the choices of veggies, fruit, starch, protein and have them pick one from each category. Packing the lunchbox together, gives them ownership in their eating and encourages them to eat the things they have chosen.

When it is time to pack your lunchbox, make sure your kids see you choosing veggies, fruit, protein and healthy starch and filling up your water bottle (not just your coffee mug).

Finally, if it works better for your family to have the lunch the school provides, there are some great options there as well. Teaching them about the plate method and making good choices at home will give them the tools they need to make informed choices when they are somewhere else.

If you need recipe ideas, you can visit this website for kid approved meals and snacks.

Coach EJ loves talking about food and how to keep healthy nutrition simple. Sign up here for a 45 minute appointment to brainstorm how you can take your lunches to the next level.

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