Kids have a lot to learn in school each day, and sending them off with a healthy lunch gives them the nutrition they need to stay focused. Research shows that students perform better on tests when they have a diet that balances protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, but packing a balanced lunch doesn’t have to break the family budget or make you late for work. Use these strategies to prepare delicious, healthy lunches that give your child a midday boost.
Protein keeps your child filled and focused throughout the long afternoon, and one ounce of cheese has the same amount of protein as one ounce of meat or fish, notes the University of Illinois Extension Service. Keep your costs low by purchasing cheese blocks that you cut into smaller portions.
Eggs Aren’t Just for Breakfast
Hard-boiled eggs are another protein-rich food that’s easy to pack in a lunch box. Boil an egg while you prepare dinner the night before, and peel the egg before packing it. For kids who prefer sandwiches, chop the cooked eggs and make egg salad.
Buy in Bulk and Divide
Individually packaged items like fruit cups, chex mix, and applesauce are usually more expensive per ounce than the same foods packaged in bulk. Purchase bulk portions of these foods, and divide the contents into small plastic containers with lids.
Prep on the Weekends
Getting everyone out the door in the morning is hectic enough, so make things easier by prepping most of your lunchbox contents on the weekend. Cut carrots and celery into sticks, dice cantaloupe into bite-sized pieces, and wash grapes and apples. Make fruit smoothies ahead of time by freezing the mixture into ice cube trays. Defrost a few cubes in the refrigerator the night before, and then add one frozen cube to the thermos when you pack the lunch.
Send last night’s minestrone or tomato soup with your child by packaging it in a thermos. To keep the soup hot until lunchtime, pour hot water into the thermos and let it sit while you heat the soup. After several minutes, pour out the water and add the hot soup.
Make Your Own Granola
Adding granola to yogurt is an easy way to increase your child’s fiber intake. Making your own granola is inexpensive, and it lets you control how much sugar is added. Create your granola from rolled oats, and toss in some dried cranberries or blueberries for extra flavor.
Bake Healthy Muffins
Whole-wheat muffins with bits of dried fruit provide fiber and help satisfy your child’s sweet tooth in a healthy way. Bake a batch of muffins and freeze them to make packing easy, recommends 100 Days of Real Food.
Select Budget-Friendly, Nut-Free Options
If your child or someone in the class has a nut allergy, look for dips or sandwich fixings that are inexpensive and nut-free. Hummus makes a nutritious dip for vegetable sticks, and sandwiches made with tomatoes and lettuce or cucumbers are tasty and filling. Sunflower seed butter is a nut-free alternative that tastes and spreads much like peanut butter.
Help Kids Learn Effectively
Proper nutrition helps kids learn effectively. Sign this petition urging the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to increase the budget for school lunches so that our local communities can offer healthy, well-prepared farm-to-table lunch options.