How to Pack Better Lunches For School
Studies suggest that many parents struggle with packing healthy lunches for their kids. They also reveal that children who bring a lunch from home are less likely to eat desserts and savory snack foods (e.g. chips) and more likely to have vegetables than if they ate the school cafeteria lunch.
So How Do We Do Better?
The first thing is to recognize that nutritional information can be confusing and often times contradictory. Is low fat or low carb best? How can you really be certain whether a particular food is healthy or unhealthy? It depends who you ask.
Instead of getting stuck in the minutiae, keep perspective and stick to the basics consistently. Christopher Gardner, Professor of Medicine at Stanford, has analyzed the impact of a multitude of diet plans. He argues that many approaches work, but for general health the three biggest things you can do are:
- Get rid of sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Ditch refined grains (white flours)
- Eat plenty of vegetables
Video of Christopher Gardner talking about merits of various diets:
These fundamentals also hold true for your children. The more you can pack whole, unprocessed foods, the better off they’ll be. Here are 6 tips to help you pack healthier lunches for your kids and the whole family.
- Include Some Protein
Moderate servings of protein are satiating, don’t lead to surges in blood sugar, and are necessary fuel for growing bodies.
- No Added Sugar or Artificial Sweeteners
This is as straightforward as it gets. That means no to soda and forget about most juices. If you’re packing something like a yogurt, buy plain instead of a flavoured one. Add a few berries on top.
- Make it Easy On Yourself
The main reason many parents pack processed foods for their children is because it comes pre-packaged, it’s usually cheap, and kids like it. Junk food has a lot going for it!
Nothing is going to be as easy as throwing a bag of chips and a lunchables package into a bag, but you can find easy options to streamline the prep process for real food too. Come up with a list of options that you either whip up quickly or batch produce on the weekend. And don’t be afraid to think outside the sandwich. Leftovers are a treat!
If you have virtually no time to prep a healthy lunch, I often recommend hiring a meal delivery service to bring ready-to-eat healthy meals right to your door. This type of service is marketed toward adults, but it can work just as well for your kids too.
- Include Some Vegetable Matter
It doesn’t have to be steamed brussel sprouts or an algae shake – any vegetables will do! Veggies are the best way to add micronutrients and fiber to meals. Experiment to find a few options your kids will actually eat. Grape tomatoes, baby carrots with hummus, or kale chips with sea salt are a great place to start.
- Read the Labels
It’s your responsibility to know what you’re feeding your children. They’ll inevitably make unhealthy decisions when left on their own, but you need to set them up for success as much as possible. Read labels and know what you’re actually giving them.
If you don’t know how to interpret nutrition labels, I’ll teach you in this quick video series for free!
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
You’ll have the most control over breakfast and dinner. Make sure those meals are full of a balance of unprocessed foods. Work on making lunch better, stick to the basics, but don’t worry if not every lunch is perfect. We’re all just doing our best out here!
Peter Roberts is a sought after nutrition consultant and strength and conditioning coach in Toronto. He’s been the head coach at Quantum CrossFit since 2010 (East York’s most highly rated gym) and consulted with Canada Basketball and Rugby League Canada, among others. He provides free fitness and nutrition resources on his site peterrobertscoaching.com to teach people how to get fitter and feel great without it being a struggle.