BY LAUREN SEPHTON
With a new school year in session, there shouldn’t have to be the added stress of having to create a healthy, yet tasty lunchbox every day. Using the simple guideline below, you can assemble the ideal lunchbox without the headache!
Step 1: Choosing the Main Dish
The very first step in creating “the perfect lunchbox” begins by choosing the “main dish.” Begin by choosing whether the meal will be satisfying one’s savory or sweet tooth, whether your inspiration is breakfast-for-lunch or classic savory sandwiches. With either route, it is essential to note that each lunch should contain a proper amount of protein. For plant-based lunchboxes, consider adding the nut butter of your liking, chickpeas, quinoa, chia seeds, hemp seeds, beans with rice, sprouted bread, wild rice, and rolled oats. Other great options include slices of lean meat, Greek yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese, hummus, and rotisserie chicken. Try adding in drinkable yogurt or milk for an easy source of protein in your child’s lunch, while also providing vitamin D and calcium that is essential for bone growth.
How much protein should I be packing in my child’s lunchbox? According to Abbott, children ages 1-3 years should be consuming 13 grams of protein every day. That is equivalent to about ½ cup whole milk, ½ cup rolled oats, and ½ Greek yogurt. Children ages 4-8 years should be consuming 19 grams of protein every day. That’s about 12 whole roasted almonds, 1 large hard-boiled egg, ½ cup whole milk, and 1 ounce of chicken. For children ages 9-13, they should be consuming 34 grams of protein each day. That’s equivalent to 1 sweet potato, 3 ounces of chicken, 1 mozzarella stick, and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. Although kids can be picky eaters, there are creative ways to give them their necessary protein that is vital for child development and healthy growth.
Step 2: Picking from the Garden
To continue in the process of packing “the perfect lunchbox,” let’s move on to picking from the garden, aka choosing the vegetable and fruit complement. Many parents have highly recommended packing a crunchy vegetable, rather than a vegetable that is softer when bitten into. For example, sliced cucumbers, carrot sticks, bell pepper slices, broccoli, snap peas, and ripe cherry tomatoes. Another great reminder is to make sure that all foods are in bite-sized pieces. This comes in handy for vegetables that kids will dip into hummus, or when adding homemade potato fries. Keep in mind that the majority of kids are going to dig right on in, without using utensils. With that being said, try to pack finger-friendly fruits, such as halved strawberries, apple slices with cinnamon, a clementine, grapes, a banana, dried apricots, sliced watermelon, and oranges. Of course, you can also add applesauce with a disposable spoon to add a little uniqueness to the lunchbox.
Step 3: Adding a Crunch
You are almost done packing “the perfect lunchbox,” you just need to add a crunch. This would be your child’s favorite snack, whether salty or sweet. There is a wide variety of snacks on the market, so there is always an option for everyone! Try out kale chips, popcorn, white cheddar cheese puffs, whole grain crackers, rice cakes, naturally-sweetened plantain chips, trail mix, chocolate-covered nuts, and pretzels. You can even substitute the crunch with baked goods, such as cornbread and muffins. The crunch component helps to satisfy your child’s cravings and hunger while giving you another great opportunity to add extra nutrition.
Step 4: A Little Added Sweetness
Whether you choose to add a tiny dessert or add a kind note to brighten up your child’s day, a little added sweetness will go a long way. A few healthy dessert options include oatmeal cookies, fruit kabobs drizzled with chocolate, almond butter, date protein balls, and fruit strips. Try adding an encouraging note to your child that has a funny joke and/or a sweet compliment. For example, if you decide to pack milk and cookies into your child’s lunch who loves sports, then think about adding a joke like: “Why do basketball players love cookies? Because they can dunk them!”
Who knew that packing a lunchbox could be so easy?