Having worked with many grade school kids and their families, I always hear the same complaint. Kids get home from school and they're starving! Oftentimes there can be 4-5 hours between your child's lunch and their next meal - so you want to make sure lunch packs a punch. I call this "staying power." The best way to do this is to make sure lunch is loaded with lean protein, healthy fats, and lots of high fiber carbs. The healthy fat (from avocado, nut butters, nuts & seeds, eggs, and hummus) and the fiber (from the whole fruits, veggies, and whole grains) are going to slow down digestion and keep them full. The lean protein is going to provide satiety...which gives the meal that "staying power" for several hours.
I believe it's really important to start kids off at a young age being responsible for what they're eating. Get kids engaged at meal times by having them be a part of the planning. Create a menu together of healthy options from each food group and have them pick what they want to eat that day or that week (post menu choices on the fridge or a cabinet wall). Kids are more likely to eat what they've chosen and having structure is actually easier for mom when it comes to planning and prep-time.
Kids also love bite-size food and lots of variety. One of my favorite lunch ideas is "leftovers on a stick." Skewer last night's protein onto a stick with some veggies and maybe some hard cheese, and you create a positive experience for your child (I especially like leftover cheese tortellini on a stick sprinkled with Parmesan cheese - yum). You can also make pizza on a stick, shrimp cocktail, chicken tenders, even grilled tofu. Round out the meal with fresh fruit and a few 100% whole wheat mini pitas or a mini bagel. I also suggest throwing in a hard-boiled egg or Chobani Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is a fantastic way to get two ounces of satiating protein as well as calcium. You can also make fruit and vegetable dips using Greek yogurt for a protein boost.
Looking for some inspiration for your family? Below are some meal ideas to get you started:
- Nut butter and banana sandwich; Greek yogurt; sliced apples
- Avocado and cucumber sushi; hard boiled egg; edamame; mandarin oranges
- Whole wheat roll ups with hummus, turkey, and cheese; cherry tomatoes; blueberries
- Leftovers on a stick; mini whole wheat bagel with lite cream cheese; sliced peach
- Whole wheat pasta salad with veggies and beans; hard boiled egg; grapes
- Greek yogurt dip with fresh fruit and/or fresh veggies
- Popcorn with a string cheese
- Toasted whole wheat Mini bagel with nut butter and drizzle honey
- Roasted Chick peas poppers
So, how many of you are thinking right now that you don't have the time to make homemade lunches and snacks for your kids? I do understand, as some of these meal ideas do take a little more time and effort than throwing a few prepackaged items into a bag. But food is really important. Breakfast and lunch are THE most important meals your kids will eat each day and can have a huge effect on their development and how they think, learn, and behave in school.
If you need help creating healthy meal and snack ideas for your family, there's help out there! Besides working with a Registered Dietitian like myself you can also get inspired by the many creative food bloggers that cater just to the kiddies and families.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Here's to the start of a new school year with lunches and snacks inspired by healthy eating and healthy living!
Danielle Omar, MS, RD