With back to school season in full swing, packing school lunches is on the brains of many parents. With all of the debate and discussions surrounding school lunches, more and more parents are taking on the responsibility of packing their child’s lunch rather than purchasing through the school lunch program. Although many school lunch programs have made great strides recently to provide healthier options to students, the reality is that many still fall short due to factors like a lack of funding or inappropriate standards set for the lunch program. By packing a student’s lunch, parents can rest assured about what their child is eating each day while they are at school. But, is this really beneficial? Many parents don’t always know how to choose the right foods that will fuel their child through the entire school day. Look at what many adults choose to eat on a daily basis; it’s not hard to see where parents may not always be equipped to make the best choices for school lunches. That’s where it’s our role as dietitians to educate parents on making healthy food choices; both for the parents and for their children.
As many of us already know, packing school lunches on a daily basis is a huge commitment. If you take the time to make sure that your children are getting the right amount of foods from each food group, changing up meal options enough to keep them excited and keeping the pantry stocked with all the right foods to make it happen, you quickly find that it’s much easier to just have your child purchase a school lunch. But, we’ve got a couple of tips to ease the burden and make this important task a seamless part of your everyday schedule. As a dietitian, these are great tips to share with clients.
- Create a Plan: If you’re the type of person who thrives on a schedule, make a meal plan a week or two in advance. If you have a list of common meals that your family enjoys, you can just pull from that list to fill your meal plan. Be sure that you have slots for each food group under every meal. Fill these slots with MyPlate in mind to create a balanced plate for every meal. Then, use your meal plan to create a grocery list. You’ll be amazed at how simple it is to look at your meal plan and make what it says. There’s no guessing or thinking involved. You just read it and do it!
- Pack Meals in Advance: Depending on the lunches you’ve chosen, you can prepare the meals ahead of time. Many times you can take some time on Sunday afternoon and get all your lunches for the week packed and ready to go. If you’ve chosen fresher options, it may be a little more difficult. But, always plan to pack lunches in the evening so you can simply ‘grab n go’ in the morning.
- Always Remember MyPlate: Sometimes it’s hard to look at a blank slate and start filling in a meal plan or packing a school lunch. But, if you keep a copy of MyPlate hanging in your kitchen, just begin going around the plate choosing foods that fit in each food group. For example, as I go around the plate, I can easily fill it with 1 slice of whole wheat toast, peanut butter, green beans and grapes. Top it off with a glass of milk or yogurt and voila, we have a full meal that is packed with everything a student needs to stay energized throughout their day at school.
Like I said before, packing school lunches for your family is a commitment. But, once you get in the swing of it, it will become second nature! Be sure to utilize all the different resources available online that make packing school lunches easier. In fact, some of them will even create balanced meal plans for you if you don’t have the time or energy to create your own. Until next time, here’s to healthy lunches and happy families!