Back to School Nutrition: Pack Those Lunches

In the flurry of back to school activities, parents should take a pause and consider how to fuel their child’s success at school. With a little forethought, it is easy to prepare healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack options.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez, AANMC Executive Director and mom of a picky eater, swears by “keeping healthy and portable snacks handy.” It’s easier to make better choices when you’ve done a little preparation ahead of time. She’s also is a proponent of getting kids involved in growing and preparing their food. “It helps get them excited about things they may not have tried otherwise.”

Daemon Jones, ND, says that children respond to a challenge, and she recommends making a fun game out of eating more fruits and vegetables.

She calls it the ‘rainbow challenge’ and says to ask your children to track how many different colors of the rainbow they eat. Put a sticker for each color on a chart on your refrigerator door. Then, reward your child with the most stickers with a prize.

Making healthy food enjoyable is easy with Dr. Dae’s approach. She advises, “pack lots of hand held foods that can be eaten or dipped in the lunch box.” Keep them separate for quick assembly by your child in the school lunchroom. Bento boxes come in many sizes and can make this task a bit easier and more sustainable on the environment by decreasing packaging waste.

Healthy Lunch Ideas:

  • Veggie strips with dip (hummus, egg salad, herbed yogurt)
  • Sliced apples with almond butter on the side
  • Hot or cold Soups in a small thermal container
  • Butter lettuce wraps with chicken or egg salad
  • Pita bread for stuffing with tomatoes and chickpea salad
  • Paleo wraps with lettuce and sliced ham or turkey

A pediatric naturopathic doctor also weighs in on healthy school lunches.

Dr. Kat Martin is a graduate of Bastyr University where she now serves as adjunct professor, teaching maternity, pediatrics and botanical medicine. Her Seattle based practice focuses on mother-child medicine. She offers these suggestions:

Start teaching healthy habits before your child is even going to school. “I suggest you begin when your children are 1-3 years of age. This is when kids are figuring out how to eat, what to eat. Teach them to eat the rainbow.”
“Always pack a protein, dairy, meat, nuts and seeds (check your school’s policy on nuts). Also, include fresh cut up veggies, one or two fruit options, apple sauce, cut up apples, peaches, pears. Smaller children do better with cut up fruit. Let kids choose what goes into their lunch, and they will be more likely to eat it. Include more food items than you think they are going to need. Kids self-regulate. Packed with an ice pack, the items that return home can be after-school snacks.”

Dr. Martin’s Safety Tips:

  • Don’t put hot foods in plastic. Use stainless steel than plastic containers.
  • If you are going to use pre-packaged foods, check food labels carefully to monitor the sugar content in order to avoid hidden or added sugars and preservatives.

Lunch is important and so is building immunity through other means.

Dr. Martin advises parents to give age appropriate doses of Vitamin D3 and Vitamin C for a healthy immune system.

You can also give them a botanical boost with elderberry syrup. Dr. Martin says it is a good antiviral and can be used preventatively during cold and flu season. Ask your naturopathic physician for more details. Click here to find an ND near you in the US and Canada.

One last back to school tip offered by Dr. Martin is to “send your kids off to school with a reminder of the importance of handwashing prior to eating their lunch and remind them again to do so when they return home. Frequent handwashing is the best defense against getting sick.”

Dr. Yanez adds, “singing the alphabet while hand washing can make sure that they’re doing it long enough to count.”

Here’s to a healthy school year and creating good habits that will last a lifetime!


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