Hack their school lunches to keep them fueled on busy days
Welcome to back to school season! While many of us are lamenting the passing of summer, we’re also looking forward to clearing away some of the chaos it has created in our schedules and routines. I know I am. The school year can be difficult but my family functions much more efficiently with routines in place. As a mother, efficiency makes me happy. (This is finally getting summer night owls back to bed at a reasonable hour!)
One of my favorite daily routines is packing school lunches. I know, take it hot. But it gives me peace of mind knowing that the foods I eat are nourishing and energizing my kids. And we all need a little extra fuel when we’re juggling school, extracurriculars, busy weekends and more. So I’ve rounded up some of my favorite nutritionist-approved tips and healthy school lunch ideas for packing an extra dose of energy into your midday meals.
1. Carbohydrates are an energizing powerhouse
Cue the communal sigh of relief! You may have spent some time worrying that your child is eating too many beige carbs, but carbs are the body’s favorite energy source – and kids need lots of them! To make it count, choose whole grains (such as whole-wheat crackers, bread, tortillas and pasta), which are rich in fiber, rather than processed grains. Consuming fiber improves digestion, balances blood sugar, and increases satiety to help you feel full for longer periods. Brown rice, overnight oats, and quinoa are great sources of fiber that can fit in your lunch box.
2. Double-serve foods give an extra boost of fuel
Protein provides satiety and sustained energy, which can help you between meals and snacks. Protein also slows the digestion of carbohydrates or sugar, preventing the spikes in blood sugar that can make children tired and moody. Like protein, dietary fat also helps you feel full longer, especially when combined with carbohydrates, and prevents a spike. So why not pack foods that contain both? (Hack mom for the win.) Foods that contain fat and protein include nuts, seeds, cheese, eggs and fatty animal proteins like salmon.
RELATED: 9 Costco Packaged Snacks Dietitian-Approved for Kids
3. Pack some extra oomph with shelf-stable products
Carrot and celery sticks, apple and orange slices, fresh berries, and sliced bell peppers are lunch staples for a reason: Kids love them and they add joy to their meals (after all, we eat with our eyes first). But you can give them an extra dose of vitamins and minerals with shelf-stable fruit and vegetable snacks, such as apple juice cups, fruit and vegetable bags, dried or freeze-dried fruit, and vegetable crisps.
4. Ditch the juice boxes and opt for water
What if I told you that water not only hydrates, but also energizes? In fact, this is not surprising since we are all made up mostly of water. Pack a reusable water bottle for your kids so they can focus, play, and get through the day without getting dehydrated. If they don’t usually drink water, try adding some fresh lemon slices or berries to spice up their water.
5. Consider a lunchtime snack box
Every now and then, consider replacing a sandwich or thermos of pasta with a bento box full of snacks. These also work well with kids who don’t like the traditional lunch. In the same way you design a charcuterie board, prepare a lunch made of energizing snacks. Some great options are nuts (just remember that whole nuts pose a choking hazard for children under 4), dried fruit, cottage cheese, yogurt, and sliced cheese, which you can pair with whole-grain crackers. Don’t forget to include dips, they are a great source of fat! Guacamole, hummus, nut butter, and cream cheese are fan favorites. If you’re in a pinch, consider nutritious packaged snacks like popcorn, granola bars, and whole grains.