If you are anything like me, the thought of packing school lunches can be confusing and overwhelming. I know that it needs to be healthy, but what exactly does that mean? How much food does your child need? Are they getting enough calcium? Enough iron? Too much fat? Following is a compilation of great information from the Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a group of registered dietitian moms.
The chart below gives a brief overview of what your toddler or preschooler needs.
|Meats & Beans (ounces)
Pack the right stuff
Grains. Make whole-grain bread, mini bagels, pita or tortillas the basis of healthy sandwiches. Pack in a container that keeps them from being squished or crumbled and fresh tasting.
Fruits and vegetables. Make fruits and veggies easy to munch by cutting them into bite-sized pieces. Choose fresh, dried, or canned. Send along a small container of yogurt for dipping. Again, pay attention to packing to protect food from unappetizing bruises.
Protein. The standard PBJ is a great choice. If food allergies nix peanut butter, explore other protein-rich spreads for sandwiches. In addition to lean lunch meat, fish, beans, nuts, cheese, and tofu are great protein sources for growing children.
Calcium. Send milk in a thermos or let your child have milk at school. If you child isn’t a milk drinker, pack yogurt, cheese, or fortified juices — all good sources of calcium.
Keep it interesting
Shape up. Cut sandwiches into fun shapes using cookie cutter to add pizzazz.
Switch it up. Instead of bread, sandwich your protein, veggies, or fruit between crackers, rice cakes, bagels, pita pockets or tortillas.
Put in the subs. Try packing whole grain pasta or rice with sliced veggies and olives; peanut butter dip for fruit; dry cereal mixed with dried fruit and nuts, or yogurt with fruit and granola. Cube leftover chicken and pair it with grapes or bell pepper chunks on a toothpick for a tower of fun.
Containers and more. Kids begging for those pre-packed lunches they see ads on TV? Do it yourself with fun multi-pocket containers — sliced cheese, pita pocket squares, cut up fruit or veggies. Pack items in reusable sandwich bags in fun, fashionable prints for girls and guys.
Nutritionist Moms – What they pack for lunch!
Ilaria St. Florian MS, RD, Clinical Dietitian Stamford Hospital:
A sandwich (usually turkey and cheese on whole wheat with dab of light mayo and mustard), a high-fiber granola bar, fresh strawberries, individually wrapped cheese, mini raisin box, Pirate’s Booty white cheddar puffs, and bottle of water (never juice).
Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips:
Applegate Farms natural roasted turkey breast or chicken breast (three slices or so) on whole wheat bread or tortilla with a slice of American cheese and a little mayo. I also include red or green grapes (or both) — about a cup’s worth or cantaloupe. For beverages I pack a bottle of water and sometimes an apple juice box.
As a treat — for my younger son, Nilla Wafers (maybe 10) or wheat thins (10 or so) or gold fish crackers (a small baggie). For my older son, two Oreos or chocolate chip cookies and/or one 100-calorie bag SkinnyPop popcorn.
Estela Schnelle, RD, founder of Weekly Bite, a lifestyle blog centered around food:
For school lunches, a big favorite is sunflower seed butter and sliced banana sandwich on whole wheat. The majority of schools are peanut free, or nut free, so I stay away from peanut butter. I also include an assortment of snap peas, baby carrots, mini cucumbers, hummus, mini bell peppers, and string cheese or Baby Bel cheese. For fruit I love apple slices, spritzed with lemon juice, and whatever fruit is in season. For a treat my kids love my Brown Rice Crispy Balls. They are a huge hit with my girls!
Christen Cupples Cooper, MS, RD, doctoral candidate in nutrition education, Teachers College, Columbia University:
I have one picky eater and one semi-picky eater. Packing lunches is always challenging. A reusable water bottle filled with ice water (kids don’t always stay well hydrated). A box of Vanilla Horizon Organic Milk; a cheese round; one medium orange or apple; one serving of whole grain crackers, pretzels or rice cakes; and 1/2 cup of carrot and celery sticks. I try to also include about 2 tbs. of hummus, even if it doesn’t get eaten. I feel like if something is packed often enough, 1) it will eventually get eaten, and 2) it sets a good example of something that rounds out a healthful meal. I usually also include two full sheets of graham crackers and an extra milk box, too, if it’s a long day they need a snack as well as lunch.
Kit Broihier, MS, RD, LD, food and nutrition writer and owner of NutriComm Inc.:
My daughter loves wraps, so I tend to provide the ingredients for her to create her own wrap. Usually this means several slices of roasted deli turkey breast, a couple of leaves of romaine lettuce and sliced tomato wrapped in a medium-sized multigrain tortilla. I’ll also add frozen grapes (fill a snack-size baggie with washed grapes and freeze overnight) to help keep everything colder — plus she loves grapes. Extra veggies like sliced cucumbers or baby carrots go in a snack baggie. Then we add a single-serve low-fat pudding cup or a KIND granola bar (pretty much any type — we like them all at our house) especially if she has field hockey practice after school. And she always buys skim milk at school at lunchtime.
Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD from MealMakeoverMoms.com, author of No Whine with Dinner: 150 Healthy, Kid-Tested Recipes from The Meal Makeover Moms:
A turkey and cheese sandwich with lettuce and mustard on whole wheat bread, small bag of baby carrots, snack bag of Sun Chips, bunch of grapes, and a Peanut Butter Power Cookie from my book, along with two water bottles. Or, my “A-Plus Pasta Salad” (whole wheat blend pasta with Italian dressing, red bell pepper, chicken, and feta cheese), strawberries, and a homemade granola bar, along with water.