Approximately 45% of school lunch gets thrown away, and that isn’t limited to cafeteria fare either. If you’ve spent any time at all in a school cafeteria, you know just how frustrating it is to see so many good, untouched, and often still wrapped up foods get tossed automatically in the trash. Combine that fact with all the picture-perfect school lunch ideas all over social media and that is the perfect storm for parent frustration. Stop over thinking, simplify and get your child involved in the process of selecting and preparing their lunch so that less goes in the trash and more fuels your child.
Consider the classics:
A traditional sandwich plus some fruit and veggies can fit the bill without too much stress. This way you get some carbohydrate, protein and produce all in one meal. Sandwich meat such as roast beef is a convenient and good source of protein that works well in an allergen-free cafeteria. Not only do you get the protein kids need for growth, but you get the most absorbable form of iron – heme iron – to help with energy and cognition. Plus, vitamin B12 which is predominantly found in animal products has been shown to enhance brain development and cognitive function. So, as this school year starts, consider beefing up that lunch box.
Tailor to their tastes:
Not everyone is a sandwich lover. If your kiddo likes their foods separate, then deconstruct that sandwich and send them with diced meat, cheese, crackers and some fruits or veggies. Maybe they love popcorn – so send them with a bag – that fits the whole grain bill, add in some cheese or yogurt, and some dried fruit. Remember to keep it portion appropriate.
Plan for hydration:
Encouraging lots of water is essential for kiddos – especially when the weather is still warm. If you have a kiddo who refuses water or have a child who is participating in after-school sports, you might want to consider hydrating with something beyond water. Consider a portion-appropriate sports drink that provides potassium-based electrolytes, coconut water and no artificial ingredients. It can ensure good hydration on those days when long sports practices follow long school days.
Appropriate portions always:
A handful is a great guide for portion sizes. Just remember to allow your kiddo to show you what their handful is so that you don’t end up overwhelming them with 4 times as many carrots. You might be a bit put off if someone packed your lunch with 2-3 cups of carrots – remember that their handful is their portion size. Think open handful for larger, less compact items (crackers, carrots, grapes, chips) and a closed handful for smaller, denser items (dried fruit, nuts, candy).
More than anything, keep the dialogue about what they are eating at school open and keep your school lunch plans flexible. Less stress around eating and food makes for a healthier life for everyone involved.