It’s back-to-school time, and with it comes the annual ritual for moms: buying school supplies, meeting the teachers, sign-up sheets, and the “first day” photos in front of the school or on the front porch.
With all that activity, most of us don’t give all that much thought and attention to lunch, except perhaps to make sure your child has something. But, when you consider the important role proper nutrition plays in learning and growing, and the fact that eating habits of children will last well into adulthood, it’s worth taking a moment to make sure this little step in the daily routine doesn’t get dismissed.
For many parents, it’s easier to buy a lunch than to add yet one more thing to a busy morning routine. But packing a lunch tends to be a healthier way to go. We spoke to Liane Vadheim, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with SCL Health, for a few tips to show you how to pack a great lunch without turning it into a dreaded chore:
- Plan ahead. Buying a hot lunch usually wins out over the bag lunch because of convenience. The single biggest barrier for most people packing a lunch is finding time in the morning as they are rushing out the door. With a little pre-planning and shopping, however, packing a lunch doesn’t have to be such a chore. A list of quick lunch ideas posted on the refrigerator door can take the thinking out of the morning rush, and fixing all or part of the lunch the night before makes it easy to “grab and go” the next day.
- It begins at the store. Look for nutritious things that come from a variety of food groups (fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy, protein) and aren’t overly processed. Fruit is an obvious choice for something quick and healthy. Veggies can be spruced up with a dip like hummus as an alternative to, say, a bag of chips.
- Look for variety. What is delicious and appealing will vary with the individual, but you can’t go wrong if you shake things up with different colors, textures, aromas, and flavors. The same old boring lunch every day takes away the mealtime enjoyment—and we definitely should enjoy our meals.
- Get a good lunch box. Don’t forget about food safety. The food “danger zone” is between 40 and 140 degrees and many foods should not be in the danger zone for more than 2 hours. To help, consider investing in an insulated lunch bag or containers. These days there are lots of different container options with myriad designs and features such as gel packs that can be used to keep things hot or cold. This will enable you to include yogurt, cheese, meats or other foods that may need to be refrigerated.
- Don’t forget the leftovers. Leftovers ought to be their own food group—they make wonderful lunches as long as you pay attention to safe refrigeration and re-heating if needed.