WHOA! Recently, a client asked about what she could pack for her kids’ lunches that would be healthy and they would eat it. I thought I would just do a web search and send her some links – bad idea! The “healthy” lunch suggestions were just awful. I decided I would blog some ideas.
First let me say that as a former teacher, the nutritional quality of school lunches is appalling. Basically, it’s a bunch of salty beige carbohydrates. By far, most of the behavioral issues I witnessed as a teacher happened within a class period or two after lunch – when their blood sugar tanked. Pizza, French fries, chocolate milk, cookies, pretzels, tater tots, hot dogs, and their counter parts do not support the learning process nor do they support your child’s wellness. Don’t even get me started on “Lunchables”. Here are some healthy lunch options for kids and for you.
For little kids, it might be best to cut everything into bite size pieces so they can just pick and eat. Older kids may or may not appreciate this. And try to separate yourself from the idea that everything has to be a sandwich. Whole wheat bread actually has a higher glycemic index (raises blood sugar) than actual table sugar. Lots of people think peanut butter is healthy, but most of the store brands have high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Look for an all-natural version or another type such as almond butter, sun (sunflower seed) butter (great for “no peanuts or tree nuts” schools) or even cashew butter. Skip the jelly.
Protein: Hard-boiled egg, chunks of chicken breast, raw almonds, almond butter or sun butter (for dipping), hummus (Tribe brand has no preservatives), 3-bean salad (see recipe below), quinoa salad (with chopped walnuts, blueberries, strawberries, with balsamic vinegar), tuna (not too often due to mercury), include some Beanitos chips (made from beans instead of grains) for dipping. Egg salad with olive oil and stone ground mustard instead of mayo can be eaten with a spoon or with Beanitos chips, carrot or celery sticks.
Fat: Guacamole (“Wholly Guacamole” has no preservatives and is available in single-serving cups – please recycle), almond butter or sun butter, veggies/salad with extra virgin olive oil, chia seeds, raw cashews, mix coconut oil with chia seeds, raisins, and chopped nuts for a pudding-like snack.
Fiber: Sliced apples, carrots, celery, pears, or pineapple. Fresh green beans or sugar-snap peas are tasty and fun to eat. A small amount of raisins or dates, or a cup of all natural apple sauce, hummus, nuts, trail mix (no colored candy bits, please) can add some fiber. Salsa and Beanitos with a little hummus and guacamole can make for a great lunch that feels like a snack. Blueberries are an amazing super food too! Banana or apple slices to dip into a nut butter… yum!
Drinks: Water. Period. End of story.
If you need to go with packaged foods, the Wholly Guacamole, Tribe Hummus, all-natural apple sauce, and Larabars are better choices than the highly-processed, loaded with high fructose corn syrup and chemical flavors, colors, and preservatives prepared foods that are commonly sold in pre-packaged lunches. Other foods to avoid include candy, cakes, cookies, and other sugary snacks (their teachers will notice a difference). Pasta and bread also create huge swings in blood sugar so avoiding those is a good idea.
Little kids are more likely to eat a healthy lunch if they have some ownership of it. As often as possible, include them in the planning, shopping, preparing, and packing of the lunch. Give them praise for doing such a good job and ask them things like “how many blueberries (pea pods, apple slices, etc.) they think they could eat at snack time?” Have them count carrot sticks or ask them “how many colors do you think you could eat in your lunch tomorrow?”
School lunches are critical for afternoon learning, sports, and activities. They also significantly impact behavior. For your child to learn and perform their best, for them to have a healthy immune system to fight the crud that goes around school, and for them to achieve their genetic potential, they need superior nutrition, not salty beige carbohydrates and cold-cuts infused with carcinogens. Take the time to make them a nourishing lunch. They’re worth it!
Here’s a link to a great research article demonstrating the strong association between nutrition and behavior. Appleton Wisconsin Boys Study ADHD Nutrition
Here’s My “Easy Breezy 3 Bean Salad” Recipe
- 1 Can – low sodium, organic chickpeas (or similar)
- 1 Can – low sodium, organic black beans (or similar)
- 1 Can – low sodium, organic kidney beans (or similar)
- 2-3 Carrots Chopped
- 1 Cup – Fresh or Frozen Peas (thaw under warm water)
- Add additional veggies such as cucumber chunks, sliced cherry tomatoes, celery, etc. as desired
- 2 Tablespoons Mustard (of choice)
- 1/3 Cup Balsamic or Red Wine Vinegar (squeeze juice from a lemon and/or minced garlic for a little extra zip)
- 1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Empty the three cans of beans into a colander and rinse.
- Move beans to large bowl.
- Add Carrots and Peas (and any other desired vegetables)
- Whisk together olive oil, mustard and vinegar and pour onto salad and toss gently.
- Chill and serve or just serve.
- Delicious and nutritious!
To learn more about holistic nutrition, download or order by book 7 Steps to a Naturally Unbridled Life.