The Ultimate Guide to Packing School Lunches
With school starting right around the corner, the last thing on your mind is school lunches.
Clothes, shoe, and supply shopping are usually at the forefront of your brain.
Trying to maintain your child’s sense of fashion and adhering to the dress code is a whole different battle that will leave you frustrated and exhausted.
Then there is figuring out after school care, practices, games, performances, and every other part of your kid’s schedule.
Who honestly has time to think about breakfast, lunch, and dinner too?
Some of the easiest things to pack are the most terrible for your kid’s health.
But don’t worry, we are going to give you a breakdown of the best and worst foods to pack and a little guidance on how much of what food group they should be eating!
Quick Nutrition Guide for Kids
Most of the suggestions we get for eating healthy don’t really include much quality advice.
We know we need to eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats.
How much of each of these do we need, though?
How much do our kids need in comparison?
Below we broke down a chart to let you know what your kids need if you want to track their daily intakes just to make sure you’re in the right ballpark.
|M 2-3||F 2-3||M 4-8||F 4-8||M 9-13||F 9-13|
|Fats||30-35%of total calorie intake||30-35%of total calorie intake||25-35%of total calorie intake||25-35%of total calorie intake||25-35%of total calorie intake||25-35%of total calorie intake|
|Carbs||45-65% of total calorie intake||45-65% of total calorie intake||45-65% of total calorie intake||45-65% of total calorie intake||45-65% of total calorie intake||45-65% of total calorie intake|
|Sodium||1,500 mg||1,500 mg||1.2 g||1.2 g||1.5 g||1.5 g|
|Sugar||Should not exceed 25% of daily caloric intake||Should not exceed 25% of daily caloric intake||Should not exceed 25% of daily caloric intake||Should not exceed 25% of daily caloric intake||Should not exceed 25% of daily caloric intake||Should not exceed 25% of daily caloric intake|
|Oils||14 g||14 g||17-18 g||17-18 g||20-22 g||20-22 g|
|Fiber||19 g||19 g||25 g||25 g||31 g||26 g|
|Dairy||2 c||2 c||2 c||2 c||3 c||3 c|
|Grains||3 oz||3 oz||5 oz||4 oz||6 oz||5oz|
|Beans/ Lean Meat||2 c||2 c||4 c||3 c||5 c||5 c|
|Fruits||1 c||1 c||1.5 c||1.5 c||1.5 c||1.5 c|
|Veggies||1 c||1 c||1.5 c||1 c||2.5 c||2 c|
Some other things you’ll want to keep an eye on are essential vitamins and minerals.
The easy to grab snacks and foods are typically high in sugars and sodium and relatively low in the nutrients they need.
Make sure your little ones are getting enough:
- Vitamin E
These nutrients are crucial to the development of healthy bones, muscles, and brains.
Best Foods to Pack for School Lunches
So now that you know your goals — if you’re keeping track — here are some of the best foods you can pack to make sure they’re meeting their goals for healthy nutrition.
Fruits and Veggies
You seriously can’t go wrong with tossing some fresh fruits and vegetables in the lunch box.
Fruits and vegetables are:
- Low in sodium
- High in polyphenols
- High in fiber
- High in those essential nutrients lunches typically lack
- Fruits can be high in sugar so try to keep a good balance between both fruits and vegetables
When packing fruits and vegetables just beware to not make them unhealthy. Adding dips and dressings like caramel or ranch can make something seemingly healthy into something riddled with all the bad things you’re trying to avoid.
When it comes to grains, whole grains are always the best choice. Other options have been processed much more and potentially bleached causing them to lack essential nutrients that we should be getting.
If possible make sure that at least half of the grains you pack in your child’s lunch are whole grain.
Yogurt and Dairy
If you decide to pack yogurt make sure that it’s actually yogurt. Check the box to see what bacterial strains are inside.
Keep in mind that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are some of the best strains you can give your little one for a balanced and healthy microbiome.
Opting for plain is always best since it doesn’t have added sugars inside.
If your little one absolutely refuses then making sure whatever brand you buy has limited sugar levels.
Milk is one of the best drinks you can give your kid as a drink, again plain is best to keep sugar levels low.
Milk is a superior option to fruit juices since it contains much less sugar.
Foods to Avoid Packing
Sure those easy to grab snacks are awesome!
The packaging is cute, the kids scarf them down, and they’re seemingly harmless.
Most of these foods though — since they have a long shelf life — are packed with high levels of sodium and nasty preservatives that can be detrimental to the health of your child.
- Snack crackers
- Fake yogurt
- Processed deli meats
- Fruit gummies and roll-ups
- Pre-packed lunch kits
- Sugary drinks (this includes fruit juices — check out that nutritional facts label)
They may be a super easy choice, but for the sake of your child’s health, they really aren’t worth the risk.
If this is how you normally pack lunch for your kids, it is totally understandable.
Studies found that after parents were properly informed of what and how much of each food their child should really be eating, they were able to pack healthier lunches and feel more confident that they were making good decisions for their child’s long term health.
School and government programs are starting to notice this and are beginning to offer better available information to parents about what exactly they should be feeding their kids.
If you have questions, asking your family doctor, pediatrician, or school officials where you can obtain this information is a step in the right direction.
Knowledge is power and when you learn what you’re supposed to be doing you can choose healthier options and feel better about those decisions.
Give this article a “share” across your social media platforms to give your fellow parents some of that knowledge so we can create a better life for all of our kids!