Packing the Healthy Lunchbox
By Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
In the summer, we’re often less rushed in the mornings and with less homework, evening meals can be more leisurely, too. What I used to really enjoy about summer, though, was not having to think about packing lunches every day. When fall rolls around, buying new school supplies, clothes and shoes is a breeze compared to figuring out what to pack in the kids’ lunchboxes.
You’ve also got to compete with cafeteria offerings, which might not be that healthy. And you can’t assume that whatever you packed for lunch last year will still meet with approval. With kids, foods have a way of going from yummy to yucky almost overnight.
Not only do you have to consider what your kids will eat, but also how you’ll keep those foods safe. Two hours out of the refrigerator is the limit, and less if the weather is really hot. So make sure you have a way to keep cold foods cold—you can use an ice pack, a frozen juice box (which will thaw by lunchtime) or a frozen sandwich, which works as long as it has no fresh veggies on it as they’ll get soggy, and very yucky.
Start with some 100 percent whole grain bread for sandwiches. If your kids are picky about dark breads, try the white whole wheat. It’s made with lighter whole grain flour but looks and tastes like white bread. You can switch up the breads also. For example, you can use a low fat whole wheat tortilla for a wrap, a whole grain English muffin or a whole grain pita bread which can be stuffed with anything from egg salad to tuna to beans.
For some added crunch on the side, skip the chips and substitute crunchy veggies like carrots, cucumbers or celery with some low fat ranch or some hummus. If that won’t fly, you can try some low fat whole grain crackers or rice cakes for a healthier alternative to fatty chips. Round out the meal with some fruit or a carton of yogurt and you’re good to go.
If your kids aren’t too strapped for time, they might enjoy putting their own lunch together, and they’re more much likely to eat their own creations. You can also try a deconstructed sandwich by pack the bread, veggies and meat or cheese separately, and let them get creative arranging their own ingredients
Also, there’s no rule that says you can’t eat breakfast or dinner items for lunch. Lots of kids are happy to eat cold leftover pasta or pizza, or to have breakfast foods instead. A serving of healthy cereal with some cut fruit and a container of milk or yogurt makes a great lunch, and it’s a nice change from everyday sandwiches.
For those kids who refuse to carry a lunch, try packing some healthy snacks to tide them over, or to complement cafeteria offerings. Most kids are okay with taking some fruit, string cheese, whole grain crackers with peanut butter, a bran muffin, a carton of yogurt or bag of baby carrots that you can toss in a backpack – no lunchbox required.
Susan Bowerman is a paid consultant to Herbalife.