Looking to build an A+ lunchbox for your child, but still make it fun and delicious so it won’t end up in the trash...or traded away? Here is a checklist of what to include to help your child shine at school-and some fresh ideas to get you started.
Fill 1/2 with fruits and vegetables. Many fruits and veggies are rich in powerful nutrients such as potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C that your child needs for strong immunity, good digestion, plus healthy growth and development. Yet despite our best intentions as parents, there are the two food groups most kids fall short of on most days. Offer a variety of fresh, dried and even dehydrated fruits and veggies over the course of the week: look for fun, eye-popping colors at your farmer’s market that entice kids to try these foods, such as purple cauliflower or a zebra striped heirloom tomato. Let kids build their own fruit or veggie “kabobs” or cut out melons or pears into playful shapes using cookie cutters. Include nutritious sauce for dunking, such as marinara, cottage cheese with lemon pepper, or a fresh-tasting bean hummus to boost the fun factor.
Aim for ¼ to be whole grains. Choose whole grains most days to ensure your child is getting the fiber, antioxidant vitamins and minerals she needs to power through her day. Ideally, this should be about 1/4 of your child’s lunch box. A sprouted grain mini pita “pizza”, 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice rolled into balls for dipping, whole wheat or quinoa pasta in fun shapes or rainbow colors can keep wholesome grains from getting boring. And surprise: did you know popcorn is a whole grain, providing about 3 grams of dietary fiber per 1 ounce serving? Turn up the flavor with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
Include 1/4 lean protein. Children ages 4-8 need about 19 grams of protein each day (Reference: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Protein takes longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, so it helps your child stay satisfied, energized and focused. Protein also provides structural building blocks for muscles and tissues, and is involved with the synthesis of enzymes and hormones which help regulate chemical reactions in the body. In addition to the staple sandwich, try rolled up certified USDA organic turkey or chicken breast slices spread with a cranberry relish or honey mustard, or hard boiled eggs, a frittata wedge, edamame or tofu cubes, hummus or refried beans. Nut and seed butters are also nutritious options with staying power - and can be spread onto whole grain pretzels or crackers. Limit processed or cured meats like bacon or sausage which may contribute more sodium to the diet than you would like, and look for reduced or low sodium meats and poultry with no added hormones, antibiotics or nitrates.
Sip Smartly. Study after study suggests that sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to “empty calories” for children, so minimize beverages which contain added sugars. Pack a reusable BPA-free water bottle, a carton of certified organic low fat milk, organic yogurt or smoothie, or an enriched nondairy alternative like soy- or almond- based beverage or yogurt. If including juice, choose 100% fruit or vegetable juice, in size-wise portions: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4-6 fl oz. of 100% fruit or vegetable juice per day for children ages 1-6, and no more than 8-12 fl oz. per day for children 7-18 years old.
Save the sugary treats for home. There's no need to do away with the sweet stuff entirely, but foods containing added sugars are typically less nutrient dense and can bump out other important, nutrient-rich foods at lunchtime. Save the occasional sweet for a treat at home, instead of school- a better bet for your little one’s lunchbox would be ¼ cup dried fruit or a snack that provides nutrients little ones need.
Go Organic when you can. According to Environmental Protection Agency, a child’s exposure to pesticide residues in and on foods may put them at greater risk because they have a different diet and are still developing their immune system which may provide less natural protection to toxins than adults. In fact, the AAP cites lower pesticide residues in organic produce and lower risk of exposure to drug-resistant bacteria as two potential benefits of choosing organics for children. So choose organic when possible: for your children, and to help protect the planet for future generations. Additionally, choosing organics can give you added peace of mind knowing that added hormones and antibiotics, GMOs and synthetic ingredients are not permitted in certified organic foods.
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As seen on Examiner.com (February 4, 2015) “What to put in your child’s lunchbox”: http://www.examiner.com/article/what-to-put-your-child-s-lunchbox