Fuel for School: Lunchbox guide, tips, tools, recipes and ideas
Included in this blog:
*Why it’s so important what kids eat for lunch and who is affected
*A lunchbox guide to help you know what to put in your kids’ lunch box
*Tips and tools to help you know how to pack and prepare lunches easily
* Plus, plenty of healthy and yummy recipes and lunch ideas
The lunch bell rings and your child has about 15 minutes to eat. Think of this time as refueling time for a race car. Everything that goes into the machine of the human body should be high-quality fuel. We need to make every second and every bite count.
Packing a healthy lunch and snacks for school is especially important for these reasons:
- Eating a variety of healthy foods including high-quality protein and fat is what fuels our brains. It also prevents that much-dreaded sugar crash. Teachers will thank you if your kids are attentive and better able to focus because they’re well-fueled. You will also notice a difference in kids’ energy after school.
- Kids tend to have more control over what they eat at school as opposed to home. We can’t control what they eat and what they bring home or throw away. Let’s give them good options and teach them how various foods affect their energy.
As parents, it isn't enough to determine lunch success by the amount of food that’s been eaten out of the lunchbox. The plan for success needs to begin before the lunchbox leaves the kitchen.
The biggest mistake is to add too much "filler" in the lunchbox. Fillers are simple carbs like crackers, chips, cereal, power bars, fruit sauces, fruit rolls and fruit juices.
These foods not only take the place of real nutrition that your child could eat, but they cause detrimental blood sugar spikes and crashes and can lead to fatty liver disease, which is now found in 1 of every 10 American children.
If you want to read more about fatty liver disease and who’s at risk, read this: A Parents’ Guide To Fatty Liver Disease in Children - Fatty Liver Foundation.
Rather than hangry effects and sugar crashes, we want to provide healthy protein and fat that fuels the brain all day long.
Healthy Lunchbox Guide
Use this lunchbox guide as you pack lunches.
The largest portion of the lunchbox by volume is fiber, which includes fruits and vegetables, beans, grains and seeds.
Remember, these are carbohydrates and don’t provide the kind of sustained fuel that protein and fat will.
Tips for preparing lunches
As you’re packing lunches, here are some pointers to help make the process as easy as possible:
- Get kids involved
Another mistake I see parents make is asking their kids, "What would you like to eat?" and then sigh when the kids reply, "pizza" everyday.
Try rephrasing the question with no more than three options that you’re OK with: "Would you like cheese, chicken, or cashews for your protein?"
If you really want that vegetable to be eaten, be specific. "What vegetable would you prefer: carrot sticks, snap peas, or celery tomorrow?
I often ask the kids before I go shopping what vegetables (carbs), proteins and fats they want for the week. I make a list and let my children make their choices from it. They feel empowered and I feel happy they’re being nourished with strong, efficient foods.
Buy the healthy foods your kids will like and place them on the bottom shelf of the fridge. This way they can help themselves to a snack and eventually prepare their own lunches.
- Use leftovers
Getting kids involved goes for dinners too; then you can use leftovers for lunch. Whether it’s simply letting kids stir the batter or slice the avocado, the skill of cooking is a great gift to give your child. Plus, they’re more likely to eat what they help prepare.
A great time for your child to make their own lunch is during dinner clean up. Since you’re already in the kitchen, pull out the lunch gear and set your child to work finding their vegetable (fiber), a protein, and a healthy fat.
- Make a routine, a plan, and prep in advance
It’s easy to get into a lunch rut and eat the same things repeatedly. A little planning and preparation goes a long way. Pick a time and day to think about what meals will be served throughout the week. Make sure you have the groceries you’ll need and prep as much as you can on one day. Hard boil a batch of eggs or have the kids chop the carrot sticks, for example.
Tools for preparing lunches
I’ve noticed that my kids are often more inclined to help out in the kitchen when they feel comfortable with their own tools.
Here are some recommended cookbooks & gadgets to have handy in the kitchen:
- The latest from The New York Times bestselling creators of Nom Nom Paleo. This collection includes a host of keto-friendly, Whole30-compatible, and plant-based recipes. A visual feast of step-by-step photos, fun cartoons, and offbeat humor.
- Author Maria Emmerich offers 150 sugar-free recipes that children will love. Parents will find just about every food their children crave, without the sugar and processed carbs that make kids’ brains foggy and can lead to health issues later in life. The recipes also offer substitutions for kids who avoid dairy, eggs, and/or nuts and even provides a selection of vegetarian recipes.
- Bento Boxes are popular because they contain a whole lunch in one place. Individual compartments separate food and are the perfect portion sizes.
- Silicone cupcake molds make eating fun by separating veggies, snacks and fruits without wasting multiple plastic baggies.
- An insulated container adds versatility to lunches by allowing you to pack hot foods. These THERMOS food jars keep contents hot for up to 5 hours or cold for up to 7 hours.
- These plastic egg molds turn hard boiled eggs into cute little creatures.
- Veggie cutters turn nutritious food into fun shapes.
- FunBites works on a variety of foods: fruits, veggies, cheese, pancakes, deli meat, grilled cheese, quesadillas, and burgers.
Recipes and ideas for lunch
Meal planning is more enjoyable when you have plenty of ideas.
Here are a few recipes from my web site that would work well for lunches:
Plantains with Mango Salsa (foodfoundation.com)
Homemade Roasted Salsa (foodfoundation.com)
Tips for Yummy Kale Chips (foodfoundation.com)
Potato Salad (foodfoundation.com)
Easy Handmade Sushi Rolls (foodfoundation.com)
Gluten Free Muffins (foodfoundation.com)
And more ideas for healthy lunch or snack items:
- hard boiled eggs lightly salted, shells removed
- small pieces of cut up leftover dinner meat or meatballs
- hummus with veggies, ready to dip
- raw nuts, coconut chips and dried fruit trail mix
- cheese sticks or cut up cheese cubes
- avocado and cheese quesadillas on corn tortillas
- tuna and crackers with celery
- Cucumber and cream cheese “sandwiches”
- almond butter and raw honey on sour dough sandwich bread
- plain whole fat yogurt with raw honey or maple syrup
- scrambled egg and bean burrito
- ham slices wrapped around a soft cheese
- tortilla chips with beans, cheese and guacamole
- soba noodles with peanut butter sauce and chicken chunks
With the new school year in full swing, let's set our action plan to include lunchbox success. Try adding more protein and healthy fat to your child's lunch for a few weeks and cut out the filler carbs.
I guarantee you will see a change in focus and energy and less meltdowns after school. You will also prevent them from gaining excess weight from snack foods and unnecessary sugar.
Imagine your child is a high performance machine, let's say a Ferrari. Would you put sugar in the engine or high octane fuel?
We all want to do what is best for our children and help them win their races. Try using a few of these new fuel tips and see how differently their engines perform.
If you find this "fuel" working on your children, try it on yourself, it actually works for parents too!
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