As summer winds down, it's time to start thinking about what you're going to be packing in those lunch boxes and snack bags and what you'll be feeding the kiddos when they hop off the bus (usually starving!).
First and foremost is to feed them a nutritious, protein-packed breakfast to start their day. And, no, sorry a Pop-Tart doesn't count. Those tasty pastries are essentially a giant, sugary candy bar with a side of sugar on top. They have High Fructose Corn Syrup, trans fats, artificial colors and loads of sodium. Don't get me wrong, I loved them growing up, but the over 50 ingredients inside can lead to numerous health problems down the road and sugar crashes before they even finish first period.
A great start to the day could include a scrambled egg with whole grain or gluten-free toast, whole grain waffle with nut butter, oatmeal with berries and walnuts, my pancakes, or a protein smoothie (blend berries, collagen peptides, nut butter, spinach, and nut milk or water).
There are many prepackaged options out there for lunches, but be careful of dangerous preservatives, trans fats, excessive amounts of sodium and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that are often laden in those foods. The worst offenders are Lunchables, 100-calorie snacks, bags of chips, cheez-its and juice boxes. The winner for worst offender is the Uncrustable sandwich. It contains 38 ridiculous ingredients (5 of which are sugar and more than a dozen are chemicals) like HFCS, trans-fats, sorbates, sulfates, and phosphates. A simple PB & jelly takes 1 minute to make - please make them from scratch. I'm disgusted that my children's elementary school offers these as alternatives to a hot lunch.
Here are my suggestions for the Back-to-School Pantry:
- Lots of whole fruits - Bananas, organic apples, organic peaches, pears, watermelon slices, organic grapes, organic berries or melon balls/cubes, orange slices, clementines, small boxes of organic raisins. Make a fun fruit kebab! Whole fruits provide fiber, potassium, antioxidants and tons of vitamins that they need for fuel during the day. (I recommend the organic option of those fruits listed on the Dirty Dozen.) Remember to shop/eat seasonally - some of these fruits won't be available this fall and winter.
- Sliced apple sandwiches – put nut butter inside the slices
- Trail mix - Make your own with raw, unsalted nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped pitted dates, small amount of chocolate chips & dried apricots. (NO M&M's!)
- Wraps - I like whole grain options to wrap up turkey slices, PB& jelly, cream cheese and veggies, chicken salad, tuna salad or egg salad.
- Whole grain English muffins (make mini-pizzas or slather w/ PB & jelly)
- Organic string cheese
- Newman's Own High Protein Pretzels
- Gluten-free? Buy large lettuce leafs and wrap over creamy chicken salad, tuna salad with lots of crunchy pickles, turkey slices (not deli meat)
- Make extra at dinner. Leftovers make for a great school lunch. Pack hot items in stainless steel or a thermos to retain their heat. My kids' faves are homemade chicken strips, leftover brown rice spaghetti and ravioli.
- Unsweetened organic apple sauce
- Plain organic yogurt - place in a blender with berries, spinach, nut or sunflower butter, process and freeze in a flexible popsicle mold
- Low-sugar granola – read the labels and keep sugar under 10 grams per serving
- Organic ham and cheese roll ups
- Veggies - sliced cucumbers with hummus, organic celery with nut butter and raisins, carrots with hummus, tahini or ranch dip, red & yellow pepper slices with hummus or dip, kale chips, sugar snap peas
- Whole grain crackers, Multi-Seed; Wasa (Goldfish don't make the cut); Mary’s Gone Crackers; Simple Mills GF crackers are my fave!
- Homemade Granola Bars – store bought ones have TOO much sugar
- Brown rice cakes, top with nut butter spread
- Real popcorn (not microwaved in a chemical-filled bag) I like Lesser Evil Organic Popcorn with Ghee for a packaged choice
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Chocolate Protein Bites – my kids’ fave
- Bubbies Pickles (fermented for yummy probiotics)
- Roasted chickpeas with honey & cinnamon
- Sea Snax – seaweed snack sheets (these do have a sea-like flavor)
- Whole grain or Gluten-Free Nature’s Path waffles (great for after school snacks topped with nut butter)
- Organic Beef Jerky, Beef Stick (I like Real Sticks, Epic Bar & Nicks Sticks)
- Reusable stainless steel bottle of ice cold water - no sugary juice needed
It's important that lunch contain a lean protein item, a complex carb option, fruit and lots of water. Kids don't need a sugary treat or cookie for lunch. Between all the treats and birthday parties at school, they get enough sugar! They need a highly nutritious meal that can carry them through the rest of the day for optimal learning.
Another important thing to consider is what you are storing their lunches and snacks in. Stainless steel is great, as well as glass. I also like Lunchskins for sandwiches and crackers. These are reusable bags that replace plastic baggies.
I got a couple of thermos’ from Pottery Bark Kids and hit up Amazon for Contigo water bottles. I use stainless steel containers for dips and small fruit.
I hope this helps ease the stress of planning, prepping and making those school lunches. I know it's a bit more work, but our children desperately need better nutrition today. Get them involved and have them help prep the night before to ease some of the work.