Ask JJ: I know nutritious food is important to my children's success at school. But how can I pack healthy lunches they'll actually eat?
One of the things I looked forward to most as a kid was the surprise of opening my lunchbox in the school cafeteria. Packing an appetizing, healthy lunch for your children is an easy way to improve their day, even if they don't feel quite so enthusiastic about the early mornings and hectic pace of a new school year.
Everyone wants their food to look tasty, and that especially applies to kids. With little ones, bite-size finger food wins out every time. So cut that apple into tiny chunks, and slice wraps into smaller spirals. A wedge of red bell pepper might get left behind, but turn it into fun shapes with mini cookie cutters, and it's much more likely to get gobbled up.
One of the quickest ways you can upgrade your child's lunch is by making "lateral shifts." That means swapping out traditional, less nutritious lunchbox items for healthy goodies that taste better and give your kids an advantage with their focus and energy. My favorite lunchbox lateral shifts include:
- Swap the bread for a gluten-free brown rice or Paleo wrap. With wraps, you get the pick-up-and-eat convenience of a sandwich without the sugar, gluten, or preservatives. If your kids are game, lettuce leaves can also be a stand-in for bread.
Swap processed meats for clean, lean protein. Most deli meats come loaded with bulking ingredients like sugar and gluten, as well as preservatives like nitrates. Switch to sliced roasted chicken or turkey breast with no added fillers or preservatives. Hummus served with lentil chips or in a wrap with veggies makes a great protein-rich lunch alternative. Swap the chips for nuts and seeds. Kids like crunchy stuff, but potato and tortilla chips are empty-calorie snacks that spike and crash their blood sugar. Slow-roasted almonds, puffed quinoa, and other nuts and seeds make great alternatives that provide crunch along with nutrients, fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Swap granola bars for healthy trail mix. How did granola bars ever get such a good reputation? They're basically candy bars masquerading as health food! Swap them for homemade trail mix. I love mixing slivered almonds and roasted pumpkin seeds with unsweetened coconut and cacao nibs, but there's many other low-sugar possibilities. Encourage your kids to help choose and make their trail mix, so they're extra invested in the results. Swap sugary treats for apple or celery slices with almond butter. This combo provides a chewy, crunchy texture similar to processed foods without the extra sugar and additives. If you're really time-crunched or want your kids to be able to help pack their own lunches, look for single-serving packets of almond butter.Swap juice boxes for fruit-flavored water. No matter how all-natural and organic that fruit juice pouch is, it's still loaded with fructose that's guaranteed to tank your child's energy and attention span after lunch. In fact, a cup of apple juice has almost exactly the same amount of sugar as a cup of cola! Instead of juice, float a few slices of your child's favorite fruit in a bottle of filtered water. By lunchtime, it will taste great, minus the added sweeteners.
It's not hard to see how giving your child the gift of good nutrition can have a major impact on their school day. And with these simple swaps, taking your lunchbox offerings to the next level doesn't have to be a hassle!
So what's your favorite healthy treat for your kids' lunches? I'd love to hear in the comments below.