5 Tips for Packing a Healthy Lunchbox

Parents everywhere are faced with the daunting task of packing a lunch for their kids each day  – which can be tough to juggle with an already busy schedule. 

But for a lot of parents, the added worry of making sure it is healthy and delicious can make lunches downright stressful. So to help ease the pain, here are my favourite tips for making a healthy lunchbox quick and easy.

1.    Choose REAL food!

The easiest way to make sure that your children’s lunch is healthy is to pack as much real, whole food as possible. It’s that simple!

“Real food” is food that is as close to its natural state as possible; in other words, food that has been minimally processed, if at all. Real food is fresh vegetables and fruits, meat, seafood, some dairy, nuts and seeds, whole grains and natural sweeteners.  

Why eat real food? Because real food is what are bodies are supposed to eat!  They are designed to digest and process real food (not strange chemically-altered variations of food or the chemicals and toxins that are found in them).   And what happens when our bodies don’t get enough of the whole, real stuff and get too much of the fake, processed stuff? They rebel – in the form of unpleasant symptoms and in worst cases, disease.

In kids this usually begins with behaviour and mood problems, learning difficulties and lack of energy. Real food will set them up for optimal health – in both the short-term and long-term.

2.    Include protein and healthy fat in every lunch.

We’ve all heard the familiar whine of “I’m hunnnnnnnnnggggrrry”. Or what about the behaviours that go along with it?  Hungry kids are irritable, unfocused and generally unhappy. This is even worse if they are suffering from a blood sugar crash.

Keep kids full and give them energy by including plant or animal protein AND healthy fat in their lunch every day.

Protein digests much slower than carbohydrates and will keep them full for longer. It also keeps balances blood sugar and helps support the immune system.

Healthy fat is important for energy, brain health and the absorption of nutrients from other foods.

By remembering to include this power combination in every lunchbox, you are setting your kids up for a great day of learning and energy.

3.    Plan ahead

What is the biggest secret to consistently having the time to make healthy lunches? Planning ahead!

What does this mean? For starters, it involves taking 30 minutes every weekend to meal plan. Making time for meal planning (and including 2-3 lunch and snack recipes in the plan) will save you hours of time during the week, plus will     minimize the stress of trying to figure out what to pack for lunches every day.

Try doubling (or even tripling) recipes so that you have extras for lunch leftovers and to freeze for future meals.  

4.    Ditch the idea of lunch foods

Why is it that sandwiches are considered a lunch food, but chicken and vegetables are not?  

I’m not totally against sandwiches once in a while but in order for kids to get a wide variety of real food, we need to change it up. A great way to do this is to use leftovers to your advantage.

You don’t have to give kids an exact replica of what you had for dinner the night before – be creative! Did you have bbq chicken and roasted vegetables for dinner?  Why not take some whole grain tortillas and make a quick bbq chicken and roasted vegetable quesadilla for lunch? Or save the leftovers and serve them for lunch a couple of days later.  

Leftovers are an easy way to make sure kids get a nutritious lunch, made from a variety of real food, with minimal effort.

5.    Make it fun!

Lunchtime and mealtime in general should be fun for kids, not stressful. So look for little ways to make it enjoyable and kids will be more likely to accept the food that you’ve packed for them to eat.

Some examples – let kids pick out their lunch containers and other items for storing their lunch, include a sweet note in their lunchbox, use cookie cutters to make their food into fun shapes or choose foods with lots of colour.

Getting your kids involved in making/packing their lunch also goes a long way in getting them excited about eating it.

Sarah Bester, CNP