Follow these tips and brand suggestions for packing convenient and healthy lunches for your family. Healthy doesn’t have to mean simply boring. Instead, think simply fabulous!
IT’S MY PASSION…
If you were to ask my husband if I’m opinionated, he may fall over dead of laughter. It’s not even a question. I AM opinionated. Not only opinionated, but I tend to be extremely passionate about certain aspects of life.
One thing I am especially passionate about is healthy eating, particularly with children. Being a mom, I feel it is my duty and responsibility to teach my children sensible eating. Don’t get me wrong, we consume our fair share of sweets and treats, but only after we’ve made a conscious effort to eat a variety of fresh, nutritional foods throughout the day.
Since Braelyn has celiac and I am a firm believer that homemade meals are healthier than school lunches, I pack both my girls’ lunches everyday. Yes that is three years and counting of packing lunches every. single. day.
Plus, not only do I pack my girls’ lunches, but I also pack Ben a lunch on average 4 times a week. Yes, he is my big kid. But really, if I didn’t pack him a lunch, he’d probably be eating an obscene amount of burgers and fries during the year. And let’s face it, I know for a fact he already makes a pit stop to the gas station every day for a soda/candy bar fix. So by at least packing him a decent lunch, I know that my main man is eating something worth some nutritional value.
My main rule of thumb is packing at least one item from each food group. Food groups can be packed separately or combined into combinations like sandwiches (grains, meat, and dairy) and fruit parfaits (fruit, grain, and dairy).
GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED…
I make a concerted effort to get my kids involved with helping pack their own lunches. Whether they are standing beside me packing up their own food, or simply telling me which foods they would like me to pack in their lunches, they are beginning to understand the importance of each food group and the benefits they bring to their bodies.
Both of my children have come to love and appreciate food based on the variety of foods they are offered. By giving them choices between multiple healthy options, they feel empowered in their own eating and in charge of their day to day diets. Although, I do make some “strong suggestions” here and there if they are approaching day 5 of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Eye roll.
I’ve listed some of our favorite lunch combos that are tasty, quick, and easy that can hopefully be a guide for preparing healthy lunches in your own family. Included are a few of our favorite brands that are convenient for a grab and go lunch.
FOOD GROUP OPTIONS:
- Buy dairy products that are high in calcium but low in sodium and sugar. Avoid buying processed dairy products like American cheese and non-naturally spreadable cheeses. Healthy options include Greek yogurt, cheese sticks, cottage cheese, milk, and cheese slices.
- Don’t be scared of fat in dairy products. It’s okay to buy higher fat milk, yogurts, and cheeses as long as they are consumed in moderation. Many lower fat and no fat options are higher in sodium and don’t keep you full.
- Make an effort to buy plain yogurts or ones that are low in sugar. We like to add our own flavors and natural sweeteners to plain yogurt which allows for more control over the sugar content. Keep a handful of small containers on hand to portion out yogurt servings. Throw some homemade granola or low sugar cereal and dried/fresh fruit in separate containers so they can make their own parfaits.
- Some of our favorite brands of snack cheeses are Babybel round cheeses and Sargento string cheeses. I enjoy buying a variety of cheese slices (provolone, muenster, pepperjack, gouda, etc.) for sandwiches. Cut up cheese slices into smaller squares to pack “homemade lunchables”.
- Send containers of cottage cheese along with whole grain crackers or veggie sticks for dipping.
- Buy lean meats, legumes, and nuts for a variety of protein options. Some good sources are low sodium deli meats, edamame, black beans, hummus, boiled eggs, mixed nuts, and nut butters.
- I make sure to buy my meat from the deli. I know that it is fresher and contains less preservatives than the packaged stuff. Avoid buying highly processed meats (bologna and cheap versions of ham and turkey) and aim for deli meats with no more than about 2 grams of fat per serving. Put deli meat on sandwiches, portion out pieces that can be stacked on crackers, or roll up slices and put on toothpick kabobs along with veggies like grape tomatoes and cucumbers.
- Throw together homemade trail mixes with a mixture of lower sodium nuts, granola, dried fruit, and a few dark chocolate pieces. One Lovely Life has some great trail mix varieties!
- Hard boil eggs ahead of time so you can throw them into lunches. Peel the egg first and place them in a small container or baggie with salt and pepper.
- I am mostly against granola bars because of their high sugar content, but we have come to love some of the KIND Nut Bars. They have a huge selection of granola bars that are high in protein (since they are made mostly of nuts) and comparatively low in sugar. We love the maple sea salt flavor!
- I will occasionally buy snack packs of jerky. Although they are high in sodium, they are a good protein source, and it switches up the monotony of cold cuts and nuts. Look for brands and flavors that are specifically labeled gluten free. We usually buy Pacific Gold Original beef jerky from Costco.
- Hummus is a great source for protein. But individual packs and pair them with whole grain crackers/chips and fresh cut veggies. Both Costco brand hummus and Sabra are tasty options.
3. FRUITS AND VEGGIES
- I can’t stress enough LOTS of fruits and veggies. Aim for fresh!!! Great options are grapes, kiwis, strawberries, apples, carrot and celery sticks, guacamole, cucumber slices, mini bell peppers, olives, petite salads, sugar snap peas, and the list goes on.
- We have applesauce packets on hand for days when we are low on fresh produce and I haven’t yet made another grocery run. Our go to applesauce is GoGo Squeez and I am loving their new Fruit & Veggiez blends so my girls can get an extra dose of veggies in their diets.
- More often than not, I pack my kiddos fruit salads with at least 3-4 types of fruit. I find they eat more fruit if they are offered a variety instead of having to eat a whole apple, banana, orange, etc. Drizzle fruit salads with a bit of honey or agave and add a squeeze of lemon juice to give a little tang and to keep apples from going brown.
- I pair fruit with yogurt and fruit/veggies with nut butters. My girls LOVE ants on a log (aka: celery with peanut butter and raisins) and even peanut butter with carrots. For less mess, you can buy Jif To Go Natural peanut butter snack packs or pack your own. You can also pack small containers of salad dressing, hummus, or guacamole to dip veggies in. Wholly Guacamole has a great snack size guacamole cup that you can buy in bulk at Costco and store in your freezer. Just toss it in a lunchbox in the morning and by lunch it will be thawed.
- Do NOT pack juice as an alternative to fruit. In fact, steer clear of packing any drink other than water. Kids need lots of water and it will benefit their bodies more than juice. I have started packing Honest Kids juices, which are lower in sugar, on Fridays for a special treat. Freeze them ahead of time and they double as an ice pack!
- Fruit snacks are NOT fruit, nor are they even a snack. They are most definitely a treat. Save treats for at home consumption where you can be aware of the sweets they are getting. Offer a small treat when your kids come home from school, rather than sending them to school with one. More often than not, they eat their treats first and it takes time away from them eating their more nutrient dense options.
- Whole grains, whole grains, WHOLE GRAINS!!! Whole grains are the best option when fulfilling your grain category. Look for grains that are high in fiber, low in sugar, free of trans fat, and have few ingredients. The fewer ingredients, the better. Healthy options include homemade granola, multi-grain crackers, tortilla chips, whole grain breads, low sugar cereals, rice cakes, and low fat/low sodium popcorn.
- SkinnyPop has some great allergy free options for healthy grains that are convenient for packing in lunches. We love their popcorn and are excited to try their new popcorn cakes. All of their popcorn products are gluten free, mostly dairy free, tree nut free, preservative free, non GMO, have no artificial flavors or ingredients, contain zero trans fat, are a good source of fiber, and are completely delicious! Really, my kids think eating this popcorn is a treat…like they should be going to the movies or something.
- I rarely (as in pretty much never ever) buy chips besides tortilla chips. Even if they are baked, not fried, I feel like they are mostly empty calories, high in sodium, and offer no real nutritional benefits. We stick to tortilla chips since they are whole grain and have come to love a few varieties. Late July has a fabulous and hearty multigrain tortilla chip called Sea Salt by the seashore, as well as Food Should Taste Good brand. Pair these chips with your kid’s favorite salsa to sneak in some extra veggies.
IN A NUTSHELL…
I know not all of us are as dedicated to food preparation and healthy eating as myself, and I understand that. By no means am I here to make you feel guilty about what you are currently eating or how you are feeding your children. I truly believe that we are all trying our best and have our family’s best interest at heart.
With that being said, if there is something nutrition wise that you could improve upon, take some baby steps. Adapt some of the advice given above to your own family’s eating and see how it makes you feel. And if you are already doing these things, more power to you. It takes effort, but the rewards are great.
I would love to hear any comments, questions, advice that you all have on healthy, enjoyable eating. Thanks for stopping by and get to packing…lunches that is.
What are your go to, healthy lunches?