A FRIEND OF MINE IS MOM OF THREE. She asked me if I could research what would be good school lunches for kids. You might already know that bread is an unhealthy ingredient but, if bread is taken out of the equation, what is left over for your kids to eat?
THERE ARE SMALL AND BIG CHANGES YOU CAN MAKE to ‘health-ify’ your child’s lunch. Bear in mind that children might take some time to get used to the new flavors. Organising a fun ‘tasting day’ during which your kid(s) can make a selection of those foods they like the most (from recommendations below) could help with the transition. If your kid is currently consuming a huge surplus of sugar, salt and trans fats (drinking soda, eating fast food etc.) they will need an adjustment period because many ‘healthy foods’ will seem tasteless at first.
Remember that each improvement you make is something to be proud of!
Table of Contents
7 Overall Guidelines for
Healthy School Lunches
1. More (raw) vegetables, if you’re cooking them make sure not to overcook them (kids dont like smushy and tasteless!).
2. More fruits, whole, sliced or mixed in a colorful salad (fruits that work well are bananas, strawberries, kiwis, grapefruit, oranges, mango, papaya, pomegranate).
3. Use organic ingredients where possible, or check this out to see which regular fruits & veggies are least/ most loaded with pesticides.
4. Less processed foods (think less processed burgers, hot dogs, and candy bars).
5. No or limited dairy (scroll to the end of the post to find out more about this).
6. No soda – for a life without obesity. Sodas are empty calories, full of sugar. Consuming them on a regular basis increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer (artificial sweeteners) and mood swings.
7. Less salt and less trans fats (to protect your child from developing heart problems later in their life as well as burdening their liver).
7 Easy Healthy Additions
to Any School Lunch
Easy, quick and extremely healthy options that will boost your child’s immune system and wellbeing. By adding any of the following you can allow your child to get in more fibre, vitamins and minerals that are crucial for their development:
1. Handful of raw carrots, cut into sticks for vitamin A, C and fibre
2. Handful of cucumber, cut into sticks for fibre and a small portion of vitamin C and magnesium
3. Slices of cut grapefruit (cut a grapefruit in 2cm thick slices, then cut those round slices in half for graperuit that looks fun and is easy to eat) for vitamin C, vitamin A, fibre and a small portion of vitamin B6
4. Extra slice of tomato, cucumber and/or lettuce in the child’s usual sandwich for extra vitamins and fibre (also, eating tomato is really benefitial against skin sun damage)
5. Switching from peanut butter to pure almond/hazelnut butter for much less salt and more healthy fats
6.Make your own hummus and use it as bread spread for protective effects against cancer, for less salt, for no artificial additives and for extra protein
7. Handful of almonds for a good portion of omega-3, B vitamins and fibre
Explained: Nutrition in Nuts & Berries
Whichever of the above options you choose to opt for, definitely also include a handful of nuts in your child’s lunch box. Peanuts are actually not nuts but legumes, and this also reflects in their nutritional value. So, I am talking about nuts like almonds, pecans and walnuts here. While peanuts contain a high amount of pro-inflammatory fats, almonds and walnuts contain many anti-inflammatory and benefitial fats. You can make a home made mix using dried cranberries, dried moji berries (naturally sweet) and almonds. Some children might not like walnuts because of their slightly bitter taste, but they might enjoy them when mixed with other nuts and dried fruits. Consider buying almond butter & hazelnut butter instead of peanut butter, as a much healthier alternative. P.s. make sure dried cranberries are not sweetened with sugar, but with a natual alternative, such as concentrated apple juice. You can also add dried bananas to your mix to make it a bit sweeter.
Although fresh berries are extremely healthy, I would not advise including this in your kid’s lunch box because they are likely to stain clothes, plus fresh berries can be very expensive. If your kid loves berries, consider making a batch of blueberry muffins with spelt or almond flour, organic yoghurt, bananas and coconut oil (recipe coming soon!) that will serve as a good lunch time snack for a whole week!
Of course, when you add either of the above to the lunch box, take away a handful of something else to make sure the portion stays the right size. So, if you usually give your child 2 sandwiches, make 1 sandwich, add a handful of nuts and a handful of carrot + cucumber sticks to have a complete lunch. Yum!
10 Healthy School Lunch
Drinks & Meals
If you’ve completely had it with the unhealthy lunches that result in your child not consuming enough vitamins, nutrients or fibre, read on to make a change!
1. Carrot & apple juice, unsweetened (pure carrot juice has a strong carrot flavor so some children might not like it)
2. Home made ice tea: make a batch of natural herbal tea, when it’s cooled you can keep it refrigerated for a few days
3. Diluted fresh lemonade (1cl of fresh lemon juice with a 2dl glass of water, with a spoonful of honey if desired. More fresh lemon juice could make the drink too acidic for a child’s stomach.)
4. Coconut water
5. Vitamin-infused water: water with slices of strawberries, kiwis and or lemon (it looks fun yet it’s a very healthy option). You can make a fun bottle for/together with your little one – with kids, fun presentation is 90% of the chance they will like the food/beverage inside.
1. Wholegrain wraps with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, corn, a drizzle of olive oil or perhaps a spoonfull of organic (goat) yoghurt and either of the following: chicken, beans, chick peas. Easy meal with many variations. Can be made beforehand and refrigerated for a few days.
2. Leftover olive & mackerel pizza (you can skip the olives). Who would say no to pizza?
3. Leftover any of the Light Meals from this blog for that matter!
4.Â Cous Cous salad (keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days (add avocado last in that case, because avocado will turn brown once cut up)).
5. 1 Banana, sliced and covered with 2 spoonfulls of organic (goat) yoghurt and a sprinkle of cereals. This meal can easily be transported in a small tupperware dish.
Sweet-Tooth Lunch Box Additions
Check out the Cakes, Crumbles and Desserts to wow your kid with a (semi-)healthy treat! Pretty sure you’ll soon be the most popular parent in school!! 🙂
3 Ingredients to Avoid
1. Non-organic dairy products (milk, cheese)
2. Store-bought cookies
3. Chocolate with less than 70% cocoa content
Healthy effects of milk have started to become questioned when various relations between milk and cancer, in both men and women, have been found. There are existing pleas to remove milk from daily school lunches. It seems that milk does not contribute to healthy development of bones or prevention of fractures – while it is filled with potentially harmful substances such as hormones and artificial growth factors (IGF-1).
If it is organic, it’s much better but even researchers from Harvard recommend a maximum of one glass of milk per day. For teenagers, natural hormone fluctuations can be aggravated by hormones from milk (which can also result in worsening of acne), so consider cutting out dairy or switching to limited amounts of organic dairy in teenagers.
Cookies are one of most caloric products on the shelves of supermarkets. One cookie usually has a minimum of 80 calories, which can quickly add up to gaining 5 kilo’s per year if one cookie too many is consumed every day! Aside from this cookies are, just like all chocolates other than minimum 70% cocoa chocolate, filled with sugar and all sorts of artificial flavors and chemicals. Opt for homemade sweet snacks (see just above) instead.