A Father's Guide to a Nutritious School Lunch : How to Pack for Energy and Focus
Updated: Dec 10, 2018
Kids spend the bulk of their day at school. So, they tend to get most of their day’s nutrition from the food they have at school.
Are you a busy father? Does it worry you to pack a nutritious meal every day for your kid’s school lunch?
Packing a healthy school lunch is not as difficult as it sounds! And, it does not even have to take much time! I’ll outline tips and ideas that’ll help you along the way.
Let’s explore how you as a busy father, can ensure your kids eat for energy, nutrition, and enthusiasm.
Keep it balanced
Eating healthy will keep your kids’ energy levels soaring. Make sure that your kids get a balanced diet every day.
To elaborate, ensure your child gets something from all the food groups. Try to include foods from the following groups in their school lunch.
Based on the dietary guidelines set by the US Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, a balanced meal plate should consist of 40 percent vegetables, 10 percent fruits, 30 percent grains, 20 percent protein, and a small portion of dairy.
Fruits and vegetables:
These are essential sources of important nutrients including vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and fiber.
Aim for five portions a day to keep all diseases at bay and help build their immune system.
While all fresh fruits are good for kids, also consider dry fruits as they provide more fiber. Handy packs of raisins, dried apricots and other dry fruits along with nuts are great options for the lunch box.
Grains can include rice, pasta, bread, oats, and many others.
Try to go for whole grains. If you must use refined grains, replace at least half of them with the whole varieties.
Whole grains, because of their low glycemic index, help kids stay full longer. They’ll make kids feel more energetic throughout the day.
Sandwiches made of whole grain bread are great options for kids to meet their grain requirements.
Although they make up the smallest portion of the ideal plate, proteins are important for the growth of kids.
Protein-rich foods include chicken, fish, meat, eggs. For vegetarians, some good options are chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, tofu, and nuts.
Kids will enjoy little packs of nuts along with dry fruits. Omelets, pancakes, and dips like hummus are other ways to incorporate protein in their diets.
Unless specified otherwise by the doctor, low fat versions should be your choice of dairy.
Fruit topped yogurt, and slices of cheese are easy to pack in a school lunch.
Too much fat and sugar should not form a part of your kids’ diets.
However, healthy fats have an important role to play in the development of the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids help in keeping away respiratory illnesses and other issues. Healthy fats also help in the absorption of certain vitamins like A, D, K, and E.
School aged children have a daily requirement of 0.9 to 1.2 gm. of omega-3 daily.
Try including foods rich in these fats like fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds. Some foods like yogurt, milk, eggs, and juice may be fortified with omega-3.
Encourage your kids to have water. It is after all, the healthiest and cheapest drink. It is important to keep kids hydrated throughout the day so think about getting them a cheap water bottle they can carry from class to their other activities.
Avoid packing soda for their school lunch. They are high in sugar and can sap kids of much needed energy. Most schools discourage them anyway.
Milk remains a good choice. Even chocolate milk or flavored milk is better than soda.
Due to it’s high sugar content, fresh fruit juice is best kept for an occasional drink at home. Encourage them to eat fresh fruit instead.
Add a splash of color
Doesn’t a colorful dinner plate attract you? It’s the same, in fact, even more, with kids.
Try combining fruits and vegetables of varied colors in your kids’ lunch box. Think, some beautiful red strawberries, green grapes, and oranges for fruit or carrots, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber for a salad. Their mouths will water for sure!
A colorful meal excites kids and increases their appetite.
And there’s more to it. Different colored foods have different nutrients in them. So, a colorful mix of foods gives them varied and important nutrition.
Small bites, Handy delights
Kids are usually in a rush to finish off their lunch so they get the time to play with their friends.
Imagine how easy it would be for them if they could eat their lunch with a minimum of effort.
Pack bite-sized small fruits like blueberries, grapes cut lengthwise, and strawberries or vegetable sticks with a healthy hummus dip. Healthy sandwiches, whole grain pitta breads, or corn tortilla wraps with interesting fillings are great foods that can be handy and quick to eat.
Shape it up!
Just like colors, shapes also attract kids.
Time to invest in some nice cookie cutters! Add a bit of your creativity. You are sure to have fun making interesting school packs. And your kids will love you for the fun shapes in their lunch box!
Instead of a square or triangle sandwich, they can have star shaped ones or teddy bear ones. How about some carrot flowers or melon hearts? You can occasionally go to the extent of creating a character from your kids’ favorite show, like an snowman sandwich with a carrot nose.
A bit of their effort helps!
Get your kids involved in planning and packing their school lunch.
Take them with you for weekend shopping trips to the grocery store. Let them choose fruits and vegetables for their lunch boxes.
You may also allow them to choose a few healthy snacks. Be sure to check labels, though! Avoid those that are high in sugar and salt.
Why not allow your kids to help you pack their lunch? Perhaps they can assemble their sandwich! Their little efforts will motivate them to have their lunch at school.
Educate kids about healthy eating
My 6-year old hated tomatoes in her salad. That is, until she was once told that tomatoes can give her cute pink cheeks. Of-course, I now end up having to devise an answer about every vegetable and fruit she has - thanks to her aroused curiosity! But, it got the best of her interests to try different ones.
The next time you shop with your kids, try telling them the story of the vegetables and fruits you see in the aisles. Tell them what each food does to their body. A lot of them can be facts, not just stories.
That way, your kids will want to eat them to look or feel or grow a certain way. And you too can brush up on your knowledge about nutritional foods. A win-win situation!
Knowledge about the importance of healthy eating will also help your kids make good choices. Older kids may start using their allowance to buy something better than sugary treats or junk food.
Be an example
It goes without saying that kids learn by imitating us grown-ups. So, make good choices yourself.
Show them how much you enjoy healthy foods. Admire the juiciness of a fruit, for example. They will soon follow suit.
Encourage them to try, try, try!
If they do not like something, tell them to try again and again and again! It sometimes takes a dozen tries before one starts to like a food!
Foods that are highly processed usually reach unacceptably high levels of salt, fat, and sugar. Although you and your kids may be tempted to pack these foods for school lunch, it is best to avoid such foods.
Convenient foods need not always be unhealthy. Fruits and other healthy snacks are also easily available. You just need to have an eye on the labels. An easy guideline is to avoid foods that have salt, sugar, or fat listed among the first three ingredients.
Sugary drinks are also best kept for special party treats.
Schools have their own guidelines in place, as well. Ensure you are aware of them. For example, some schools may not allow nuts and eggs in school lunches for the benefit of kids with allergies.
You can prepare your kids’ lunch the previous night to save time. Store it in the refrigerator in such a case. In the morning, pack it along with an ice pack or frozen bottle of water to keep it at a safe temperature.
As well as the contents of the lunch box, the way you pack them is also important.
Be sure to wash and thoroughly dry your hands and all the utensils you will use. Wash and dry fruits before packing. Having a decent lunch box set can make everyone's life easier if your child is old and responsible enough to not lose it. Pack hot foods while they are still hot in an insulated thermos. Pack cold foods with ice packs.
Do not reuse packing materials like foils to avoid cross-contamination.
Finally, follow school guidelines regarding what not to pack and how to pack.
Are you better equipped now?
I hope these tips on how to ensure kids get the required nutrition can help you make smart choices when packing lunches.
So, have fun while you embark on a journey of developing healthy eating habits in your kids. And, don’t forget to pack safely.