When it comes to anything related to children and school, I believe in taking a very involved approach. I’ve worked in a variety of classrooms and other educational positions and I just don’t think you can take seriously enough the future of our children’s lives. This most definitely includes school lunch. The way we nourish our children’s minds and bodies will either enable or hinder them in their progress. I promise! I see it all the time. The kids who eat processed, sugary foods have a harder time focusing and sticking to tasks that require stamina. Alternatively, students who have eaten more whole and natural foods are able to outperform the others almost every time. So, for the benefit of our children and their success, here are 12 healthier lunch options to keep your little scholar focused and ready to learn.
1. Red Rover, Red Rover
Before exploring school lunch menu options, consider investing in a Rover from PlanetBox (or similar). I love these lunch boxes because not only do they eliminate the need for plastic bags and lunch sacks, but they also prevent leaks and food from getting squished. If you’re an organizer like me, you’ll also appreciate the fact that the Rover compartmentalizes food. They essentially force you to include a variety of foods, making it a meal for the eyes as well as the tummy.
2. Playing Chicken
Even after all the studies and reports that show how fried foods are bad for our health, public schools are still serving fried chicken and chicken nuggets for lunch as “healthy” options. These “meats” are loaded with saturated fats, processed ingredients, and unnecessary sodium. For a healthier option, send your child to school with a serving of homemade chicken strips, steamed carrots, sliced tomatoes, a couple florets of broccoli, and a little treat of macaroons on the side.
3. Get Their Wheels A Spinning
Ever since low carb diets became popular, pasta has been commonly labeled as “bad”. However, although it is a source of carbohydrates, pasta isn’t bad if eaten in moderation. Moreover, it’s not actually the pasta itself that should be avoided but the sugar-dense sauces that usually accompany the pasta. School lunches are notorious for loading heavy sauces on spaghetti and other pastas or noodles, making these poor lunch options. Opt instead for a home prepared pasta minus the sauce and matched with small portions of protein, fruits, and veggies.
4. South of the Border
Replace sodium-packed school lunch rice with home prepared rice and beans. Continue the Mexican theme by adding celery and guacamole, star fruit, melon balls, and a sweet punch of raisins. For the healthiest option possible, select a whole grain rice instead of nutrient-stripped instant white rice.
5. Pizza Pizzazz!
Convincing children that pizza isn’t the best school lunch option might seem impossible, but these mini quinoa pizza bites will give the reigning school lunch king a run for its
money pepperoni. To make the bites, simply mix a cup of protein-rich quinoa with eggs and pizza inspired flavors such as chopped tomatoes, olives, grated cheese, and pepper.
6. That’s A Wrap!
Here’s an option to provide your children in place of those sickly looking ham and cheese sandwiches served at school. Roll some oven roasted turkey, mozzarella or feta cheese, spinach, and red bell peppers in a whole wheat tortilla. For under 300 calories, it’s a lunch that’ll keep your kids rolling throughout the school day.
7. In the Pita My Heart
Here’s an alternative to school sub sandwiches that’ll be sure to win your kid’s hearts over. Stuff wheat pitas with a lean grilled chicken salad. Prepare the salad with sliced tomatoes, cucumber, bits of apple, and a taste of Greek yogurt.
8. Nothing Fishy Going on Here
For 230 calories, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 580 mg of sodium, and 13 grams of fat, your child can eat 2 flimsy, soggy school lunch fish filets. OR, you can oven roast a few ounces of wild caught salmon, sprinkle on a light, whole grain breading with some other seasonings, and grill up a small handful of sweet potato fries. No hydrogenated oils. No sugar. Minimal sodium. Healthy omega fatty acids. Quality carbs. Lean protein. Who’s the cod fish now, school lunch?
9. Turkey Wrap
Replace school burritos with a much more satisfying turkey wrap. Use a whole wheat tortilla, a few slices of turkey, a spoonful of hummus, spinach, and some crumbles of goat cheese. So much more appetizing!
10. What A Nut!
I love a good PB & J as much as the next person, but I always think how disappointed I’d feel as a child if I was given one of those Smucker’s Uncrustables. For how tiny they are, they’re loaded with calories, sugars, and carbohydrates that come primarily from processed ingredients and saturated oils. That’s not Smucker’s, it’s yuckers! Instead, give your child a raw nut butter sandwich with 1/2 a sliced banana on whole grain bread. They still get the nutty goodness, the sweet kick from the banana, and a more satisfying fill from quality bread. You’d be nutty not to go with the homemade version.
Sometimes for lunch, school will provide students with breakfast menu options. Think flimsy waffles, pancakes, barely real french toast sticks, and eggs that look like they belong with your Fischer Price play food set. Here’s a list of the ingredients found in those “eggs”: Pasteurized whole eggs with sodium phosphate (preservative), citric acid and monosodium phosphate (added to preserve color), nisin preparation (preservative). Prepared with liquid margarine: Liquid soybean oil and hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, soy lecithin, mono-and diglycerides, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives), artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color). Compare those school eggs to an egg salad you prepare at home: Hard boiled eggs, a squeeze of mustard, relish to taste, salt and pepper to taste, and 2 tablespoons of Greek yogurt. The end. Match the salad with some fresh berries and a few veggies and your kids will know you’ve given them something egg-stra special.
Popular Lunchables, with all of 8 each of small crackers and cheese and meat squares, contain 390 calories, 22 grams of fat, 60 grams of cholesterol, 890 mg of sodium, 34 grams of carbohydrates, and 12 grams of sugar. WOW! That’s a whole lot of junk for not a whole lot of food! Give your kids something they can actually call lunch instead with this option from Bless This Mess Please. Use a higher quality crackers, unprocessed slices of meat and cheese, and your child’s choice of sliced veggies and fruit. That’s a much more lunchABLE lunch!