Get out the binders and sharpen those pencils – you know the drill by now, don’t you? Another school year, another mad dash for school supplies and groceries for lunches, right?
And since we know how hard it can be to juggle everything at once, we thought that it would be nice to offer some know-how on the subject of meal planning.
We want to help make it a little easier to get the kids out the door in the mornings while still making sure they have the nutritious fuel they need to get them throughout their busy days.
Here is our easy 1-2-3 method for packing school lunches that will give them yummy options they will want to eat, while making it easy to include all the food groups:
Step 1: Main Event
This is the food that will make up the bulk of your child’s lunch and it should include some whole wheat carbohydrates and protein. We start with this because it is often easier to begin with the main event of the lunch and build around it afterwards.
While traditional sandwiches are great for the main event as they easily including multiple food groups, don’t be afraid to get creative and go outside of the sandwich box with something like a make-your-own stackable lunch with cheese, whole wheat crackers, and meats or whole grain pita with protein rich spreads such as hummus and a handful of nuts (though you should be conscious of rules regarding allergies in schools).
Carbohydrates and Proteins
The idea of the main event is that it should be something that will keep children full for a longer time. This means including some complex carbohydrates via whole wheat products, and protein through meats, beans, nuts, eggs, or dairy.
Whole wheat or whole grain carbohydrates are a much healthier choice than white breads, or simple carbohydrates, as they contain a lot less sugar. Less sugar in bread products means less sugar stuck on teeth and gums. Whole wheat also provides longer lasting energy compared to white bread, which will help children power through the rest of their school day without getting as drowsy.
Proteins will keep your child feeling full for longer which will help them to concentrate throughout the day. Depending on allergies and eating choices, proteins can be found in many different foods and can be incorporated into the main event though lean sandwich meats, cheeses, tofu, hard boiled eggs, various nuts, legumes, seeds, and nut spreads (again, staying away from peanuts).
Proteins are great not only for staying full but also for keeping your child’s mouth happy. Foods rich in proteins have calcium and phosphorus in them which help keep the enamel of teeth strong.
Step 2: Sides and Snacks
This is where you will build on your meal, depending on what you choose as your main event. Generally you will want to include a few servings of fruits and vegetables as well as some additional protein.
There is a lot of room for adjustment here. For example, if you choose a main event with little or no dairy products, consider dark, leafy green vegetables, which are high in calcium and other excellent vitamins. If more fruits and vegetables are needed, consider snacks like vegetable chips, dried fruit, yogurt, and bite-sized veggies with dip as a great addition.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Protein
Fresh fruits and vegetables are always best, and crunchy ones such as apples, snap peas, celery, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and asian pears not only pack easily without being squished but are great for teeth.
Hard and crunchy fruits and vegetables help to clean in the crevices of teeth when chewed and they contain lots of water which helps to wash away oral bacteria. Including fruits and vegetables that your child enjoys eating will provide them with additional vitamins and minerals not found in carbohydrates and proteins.
Adding additional protein through dairy products or dairy alternatives here is a great idea as they can eat them as a mid-morning snack to help curb hunger until lunch time. Dairy products are an easy way to do this and would balance out the meal if the main event doesn’t include much. Some options may be yogurt, cheese, or yogurt based dips such as tzatziki which they can dip their vegetables into.
The calcium typically associated with dairy is abundant in other things like beans, green veggies, almonds, and seeds, and is important in helping their bones and teeth grow and develop properly. And as far as non-dairy beverages go, alternatives such as soy milk boxes, edamame beans, or tofu are great sources of calcium and protein.
Step 3: Beverages
What your child drinks throughout the day is extremely important as it will ideally keep them hydrated which will help them to stay focused and alert. Remember that if your child’s drinks contain sugars, these will stay in their mouths until they are removed and can cause teeth and gum decay over time.
Large influxes of sugar will also give your child a rapid burst of energy followed by a drop that can make them tired and less focused for long periods. Sugars that absorb more slowly over time will help to avoid that problem, and will limit the potential hazards surrounding ‘sugar highs’.
Water and Sugar Free Juices
The best drink for your child to have throughout the day is water. We’ll never get tired of saying it because it’ll never be untrue.
Water, water, water!
H2O will best hydrate them and will wash away food debris and sugars lingering in their mouths. Including a fruit or vegetable juice can be a great way to help them get another serving of fruits and vegetables, but be sure to only include juices that have no additional sugar added to them.
Otherwise, juices with added sugar can contain the same amount of sugar as a typical can of soda. Including juice in a small, single serving juice box or reusable bottle is the most ideal, as giving more than that will likely result in them choosing to drink the juice over water throughout the day, constantly exposing teeth to more sugar than is healthy.
If you choose to include juice in your child’s lunch, be sure to also include water, preferably in a reusable water bottle, and this will help to wash away food debris and sugars while keeping their body and brain happy and hydrated.
Packing a toothbrush and toothpaste in your child’s school bag and encouraging them to brush their teeth after they eat at school will help them get rid of food debris and sugars lingering in their mouth. If this debris is left for a long period of time, plaque can develop and this can cause teeth and gum decay, resulting in cavities and other oral issues.
Plus, it’s an excellent habit that everyone should take to heart!
The sooner you start with them, the sooner it can become routine. The savings from prevented dental procedures over the years, mixed with the relief you’ll feel as a parent from having prevented toothaches and other ill effects, is worth the extra little bit of foresight, wouldn’t you say?