original1Between school supplies, new shoes and backpacks, there’s a lot to think about as you prepare your kids for a new school year. So when you’re looking for the best things to buy in setting them up for a bright future, take a closer look at what’s going into their lunches.

We send our kids to school to learn and grow but the truth is that the best foundation for education starts at home – especially when it comes to establishing healthy eating habits. A 2010 study of more than 1,000 sixth graders found that students who regularly received a school-provided lunch were 29 percent more likely to be obese than those who brought lunch from home. With that in mind, here are some helpful tips for showing your kids you care by packing delicious and nutritious lunches that encourage them to develop healthy eating habits of their own.

What to Pack?

Coming up with back-to-school lunch ideas that children will actually eat can be a challenge for many parents. Here are some tips:

  • Combine nutrient-rich foods that supply the protein, fat and carbohydrates needed to sustain energy and concentration for several hours, thus preventing a drop in blood sugar so that kids can make it through the afternoon of classes and into their after-school activities.
    • Foods like fresh fruit, bread, crackers and juice provide carbohydrates, while milk, cheese, yogurt, lean meat and beans provide protein to balance a kid’s meals. Healthy fat is found in nuts, peanut butter, meat and some dairy foods.
    • Avoid salty, fatty, heavily processed and packaged foods as well as drinks that are high in sodium, sugar or saturated fat. Overly greasy or fatty foods can leave your child feeling sluggish, tired or uncomfortably full, all of which can hinder learning.
  • Don’t forget to keep food cold by using frozen cold packs or a thermos for hot soups, stews or sauces. Ensuring foods remain at the temperature they’re best eaten at can help your kids actually want to eat them at lunchtime.
  • Remember that while you’re making your kids’ lunches, it’s also a great time to make your own. Consider packing smaller portions of the same dishes you’re packing for yourself, which will model and reinforce the importance of eating healthy as a family.
  • Include your child’s favorite foods. If he/she participates in the planning and packing, the food is more likely to be eaten and enjoyed.

Meal Ideas

Is that plain old bread getting stale? If your kids have become bored with their sandwich selections, try mixing it up with bagels, pita bread, tortillas, and English muffins. Simple ingredient changes can liven up lunchtime and make a huge impact on the nutritional value of meals such as using fresh tomatoes, low-fat cheeses, whole wheat crust and nitrate-free pepperoni when making pizza, for example (always a kid favorite!)

Here are some other ideas for healthy food swaps:

  • Brown rice instead of white
  • Whole-wheat or whole-grain bread instead of white
  • Roasted, baked or grilled chicken instead of fried nuggets
  • White, low-fat milk instead of chocolate milk
  • Whole, fresh fruit instead of canned fruit in syrup
  • Baked sweet potato fries instead of deep-fried French fries
  • Water or 100% fruit juice instead of beverages with high fructose corn syrup and sugar such as soda, lemonade, sweetened iced tea, and some sports drinks.

I hope this article has provided some easy ideas and inspiration to give your kids (and you!) a great start to the school year by providing nourishing lunches that show them you care about their well-being. The daily routine of planning, preparing and packing school lunches may take up time in our jam-packed, busy mornings, but it’s a great opportunity to introduce kids to foods that support their long-term health.

Wishing you a happy, healthy school year!