Healthy Lunches Your Kids Will Love

As the slower, gentler pace of summer gives way to school schedules and alarm clocks, you may find yourself in a bit of weekday panic as you struggle to get your kids out the door with backpacks, homework and masks in tow. As you’re a healthcare professional, your days are already jam-packed. Add the prospect of planning and packing healthy lunches to the mix and it can all start to feel a bit overwhelming.

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Healthy Lunches Your Kids Will Love

September 29, 2021

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As the slower, gentler pace of summer gives way to school schedules and alarm clocks, you may find yourself in a bit of weekday panic as you struggle to get your kids out the door with backpacks, homework, and masks in tow. As you’re a healthcare professional, your days are already jam-packed. Add the prospect of planning and packing healthy lunches to the mix and it can all start to feel a bit overwhelming.


As you know, though, it’s important to take the time to plan and pack nutritious lunches and snacks for your little ones. Not only does proper nutrition help maintain healthy levels of vital nutrients, such as iron, folate, and vitamins A, B, C, and D,1 it can also help prevent anemia, as well as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, serious conditions that are reaching epidemic levels among children in the United States.2, 3


Contrary to what your kids may think, healthy nutrition doesn’t have to be bland or boring — and it doesn’t have to eat up oodles of your free time. Read on for simple, healthy lunches you can prepare for your children in virtually no time, along with tips to make your weekday meal prep a breeze. But first, let’s take a look at what experts recommend when planning your children’s lunches and snacks.

Young woman making school lunch in the morning

Tips for Healthy Meal Planning

Preparing healthy school lunches for your kids doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult. Try these tips to help keep your children in top form … and keep you as stress-free as possible.

 

A major part of staying lean is to adopt and maintain a healthy eating pattern.

 

  1. Go for variety and quality.
    No one wants to eat the same thing day in and day out, so make an effort to plan different lunches for the week, and to include plenty of variety within each meal to ensure a wide range of nutrients, advise experts at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.4

     

    Also, pay attention to the quality of the food you’re packing: New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that two-thirds of calories consumed by children aged 2 to 19 in 2018 came from ultra-processed foods with an “overall poorer nutrient profile.”5

  2. Don’t forget healthy snacks.
    To help give your kids the energy and focus they need during those long school days, be sure to include a snack or two along with their lunches. To keep things streamlined, simply focus on pairing a carbohydrate-rich food with a protein source, the experts at Harvard advise. Add a small amount of healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds, if you’d like. Some good snack choices include string cheese with carrots, berries with Greek yogurt, and celery with nut butter.4

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  1. Send a refillable water bottle to school.
    Adequate hydration is important for so many reasons, including that it may help improve cognitive function, which is vital for learning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.6 Having plenty of water on hand may also help curb your kids’ intake of other less desirable drinks, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, the CDC adds.7

     

  2. Do some meal planning ahead of time.
    It can be difficult to concoct healthy lunches and snacks during the morning rush, so do yourself a favor and plan out your kids’ meals for the week. Remember to focus on variety and quality, and get creative with it!
Girlfriends at school lunch table, one smiling to camera

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  1. Make friends with meal prep.

In addition to planning out your children’s lunches, take a bit of time to do some meal prep, too, to help streamline your mornings. For instance:

    • Peel and chop any vegetables you’ll be using during the week. Store each type in a different container.
    • Measure out snacks into individual servings.
    • Making pasta salad? Boil the noodles and refrigerate in single-serving containers. Or prep the entire salad — with lots of veggies! — minus the dressing. Then add the dressing the morning of.
    • Got smoothies on the menu? Blend up a batch and freeze in single-serving glass containers. (Thaw them in the refrigerator the night before you send them to school.)
    • Whip up a batch of whole-wheat waffles, then freeze. They make a great alternative to traditional sandwiches or can even be enjoyed on their own as a healthy snack. Just remember to thaw them the night before.

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  1. Get your kids involved.

Research has shown that when children help prepare meals, they not only tend to eat more vegetables, they also report increased feelings of positivity and control.8

Healthy Lunches Your Kids Will Love

There’s nothing wrong with the standard fare of PB&Js, but they can get a bit tiring day in and out. Try the following lunch ideas to keep your kids well-fed and happy.

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  • Bento box: Invest in a few containers with different compartments and fill them with healthy, delicious lunch items. Take a cue from the experts at Harvard and fill half the box with colorful fruits or vegetables, preferably two or three different varieties; one-fourth with whole grains; and the remaining one-fourth with healthy proteins, such as beans, edamame, a hardboiled egg, nuts and seeds, a veggie burger, or roasted chicken or turkey. Add a small amount of dairy or healthy fats, such as avocado or nut butter, if you’d like.4
Lilac lunch box with compartments in which-useful food for lunch and snack: sandwich, vegetables, fruits, nuts on a light green background. Concept of healthy food, snack for adults and children

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  • Fruit Smoothie: Low- or nonfat yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, and a splash of coconut or almond milk make for a delicious, refreshing lunch. Throw in some spinach for extra nutrition points!
  • Hummus with vegetables: Virtually any type of raw vegetable makes for a great accompaniment to hummus, as does whole-wheat pita bread or whole-grain crackers.
  • Lowfat cottage cheese with chopped vegetables or fruit: Filling and so yummy!
  • Lunch wraps: Egg salad, tuna salad, turkey or chicken slices: Wrap in a whole-grain tortilla or lettuce leaves with some shredded carrots and diced cucumber for a delicious, nutritious lunch.
  • Pasta salad: Toss cooked, chilled whole-grain rotini with diced chicken breast or kidney beans; sliced carrots, cucumber, and celery; and a bit of olive oil and vinegar for a refreshing meal on a hot day. For an extra boost of vegetables, dress the salad in pesto instead of the more traditional oil and vinegar.
  • Soup: If you’re whipping up a batch of soup for a weeknight dinner, make extra to double as lunch for your kids. Heat it up in the morning and pour into a thermos — it’ll stay toasty and delicious until mealtime.
  • Taco salad: Crisp romaine, shredded carrots, corn kernels, tomatoes, and black olives, topped with some cooked ground turkey and a bit of shredded cheese, make for a delicious, crunchy, filling lunch. Top with a bit of salsa if your kids are game.
  • Turkey Meatballs: Making meatballs for dinner? Make some extra, then heat up in the morning, add some marinara and toss in a thermos. Your kids will thank you come lunchtime!
  • Whole-wheat waffle sandwich: Whole-wheat waffles make for a healthy, hearty lunch. Try spreading with a bit of nut butter and bananas or cream cheese and fruit spread.

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Nutritious school lunches don’t have to be boring for your kids or time-consuming for you. With some planning, some prep, and some creativity, you can help keep your kids healthy and happy while helping to streamline those hectic weekday mornings. Bon appetit!

Footnotes:
1 Stanford Children’s Health. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=kids-need-their-nutrients--1-19820. Accessed Sept. 2021.
2 Childhood Obesity Facts: Overweight & Obesity. CDC. 5 Apr. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html. Accessed Sept. 2021.
3 Koren, Dorit, and Lynne L. Levitsky. “Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Childhood and Adolescence.” Pediatrics in Review, vol. 42, no. 4, Apr. 2021, pp. 167–79. pedsinreview.aappublications.org, https://doi.org/10.1542/pir.2019-0236.
4 “Packing a Healthy Lunchbox.” The Nutrition Source, 21 Aug. 2019, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/kids-healthy-lunchbox-guide/. Accessed Sept. 2021.
5 Wang, Lu, et al. “Trends in Consumption of Ultraprocessed Foods Among US Youths Aged 2-19 Years, 1999-2018.” JAMA, vol. 326, no. 6, Aug. 2021, pp. 519–30. Silverchair, https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2021.10238.
6 Childhood Nutrition Facts: Healthy Schools. CDC. 16 Feb. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm. Accessed Sept. 2021.
7 Water Access: Healthy Schools. CDC. 14 Oct. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/npao/wateraccess.htm. Accessed Sept. 2021.
8 van der Horst, Klazine, et al. “Involving Children in Meal Preparation. Effects on Food Intake.” Appetite, vol. 79, Aug. 2014, pp. 18–24. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.03.030.

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