Back to School Lunches for Children
I love summer– the sunshine, the fresh air, no hats or mitts to worry about. But best of all, no lunches to pack! But watching the summer days fly by makes me think of back to school and how this year I will have two lunches to pack; my baby is heading into Grade 1! I work nearly full time as a dietitian, so I am busy and don’t have a lot of time to prepare healthy lunches every day. Some of you may be thinking that because of my job my kids must eat healthy. To that I respond “I try my best, but it doesn’t always happen!”
It’s one thing to come up with ideas for a few days, but to provide variety over weeks and months, that’s a different story. So, in addition to the task of packing lunches, I have to get extra creative. Here are some strategies that you (and I) can try to feed our little people and fuel them up for a good day of learning.
First things first. Find out your school’s policies on lunches. For example:
- Many schools are “nut aware” but also restrict other foods that can cause an allergic reaction. Nut aware schools provide guidelines for safety of children and youth.
- Some require lunches be litterless, and some won’t allow anything considered to be treat foods.
- Does your school have special meal days or hot lunch programs?
- Do teachers reward with candies or other treats (ours has been known to give slushy drinks)?
- Does your school have a cafeteria and what foods are served there? Are those foods ones that you would consider healthy? How accessible is the cafeteria to students? Do the older kids have access before the younger ones, cleaning out your child’s favorite foods?
- Do they have access to a microwave? A big issue that I hear about a lot, is that the length of time they give students for lunch is short, so standing in line waiting to buy food or heat up food can seriously cut into your child’s eating time.
- Do students get one snack break, or two?
Now, for packing lunches. Here are some things to consider:
- Can your child open the packaging themselves? Examples: cheese strings, yogurt containers, insulated containers.
- Consider buying reuseable containers, an insulated lunch bag and an ice pack to keep food from being squished and at safe temperatures. Use a reusable water bottle.
- Get your child involved in the planning and packing of their lunches. Make a list together of what they will eat and put it on the fridge. Add to it as they discover new foods.
- Try to include a food from each of the four food groups.
- Designate a shelf (or a basket) in your pantry for healthy snacks you use in lunches such as dried fruit, applesauce, whole grain crackers and nut butters (if allowed) or nut butter alternatives such as soy butter. Or in your fridge, keep single serve yogurts, hummus and sliced cheese, as well as bags/containers of cut-up fruits and vegetables.
- Spend a little time on the weekend and prepare foods for the upcoming week (for example wash and chop vegetables, portion out yogurt or snacks into containers) to make packaging lunches faster.
- Make lunch options like sandwiches in advance and freeze for future use.
- Heat up leftovers in the morning and put them in an insulated container to avoid microwave line-ups.
These are some of the things I do to make packing lunches an easier process for me while providing healthy lunches that my children want to eat.