How to Pack a Balanced Lunch for the Entire Family
School is almost here, which means you're starting to think about what to feed your kids while they're at school. While school lunches have come a long way in offering healthier foods, I still wouldn't call it a balanced lunch.
A truly balanced lunch focuses on the correct portions and it keeps you and your kids full for a long time. I focus on feeding my family healthy portions of proteins, veggies and carbs. I love to use divided containers to control how much of each category we're eating. Here are a few things that can help you feed your family balanced, healthy lunches
Protein is the first step towards a balanced lunch
Protein should be the focus of a balanced lunch. Protein is a vital component for optimal brain health and function. Needless to say, your little learners need more of it to retain all that they're learning in school.
If you're using divided containers you should use the largest portion for your proteins. You can include lots of different sources of proteins in your lunches some good options include:
Tuna or other fish options
Cheese - slices or string cheese
Lunch meats (turkey, chicken and ham are excellent options)
Protein mac ‘n cheese
Breakfast burritos with eggs and meat
Power protein muffin
Any of these options are going to give your kids a good boost of energy. If you have picky eaters, feel free to make something up that will hide the protein a little bit. Wraps or sandwiches are a great way for your kids get their protein without noticing too much. You can also include lots of hidden veggies in a sandwich. Just make sure you're using a whole grain bread or wrap. Even better, make it a lettuce wrap. I have an amazing recipe for a lettuce wrap, that even fills my husband up, so it's a great option for everyone!
To save some time, try to prepare your proteins ahead of time. Spend a few hours on the weekend grilling chicken, boiling eggs, etc. and then divide everything into one-person portions. This will help you to quickly throw lunches together the night before.
Veggies should be at every meal
Everyone should get used to having vegetables as a side for every meal. Veggies are often a forgotten part of lunches, but they're so important to a balanced diet because they are packed with vitamins and minerals that are important for growing children and for adults!
Again, if you're using a divided container you should fill the second largest portion with veggies. Here are a few ideas that you can throw in your kids' lunchboxes.
Carrots (add a hummus dip for more protein!)
Sugar snap peas
Bell peppers (add green, red, yellow and orange for a fun pop of color)
You can also make up a side salad for your kids. That way they can get multiple veggies all at once. Plus that makes eating leafy greens like spinach and kale a little easier. Make sure you include their favorite dip, like hummus so they actually eat it!
You can easily prep veggies so that they're ready to be put into lunch boxes at the last minute. When you get back from the grocery store, take a few minutes to wash and chop anything that needs it. Divide each vegetable into a single serving portion and put it in a container or zip lock bag. Then all you have to do is throw it into a lunch box and you're good to go!
Carbs should be limited but not forgotten
Now the part everyone loves, carbs! The American diet usually focuses on carbs as the main focus of a meal, but it shouldn't be! When you include carbs in a divided lunch container you should choose the smallest portion. However, kids are usually more active than adults so they can afford a few more carbs. Keep in mind that while they can afford the carbs, it's still good to teach them that some carbs are better than others!
Try to include whole-grain complex carbs to your kids' lunches. I like to throw in the following options:
Rice, preferably brown rice
Oatmeal (who doesn't love breakfast for lunch?)
Remember, carbs will give your kids a quick boost of energy, which is a good thing. They need that quick burning fuel to keep them running and learning throughout the day! The protein you packed will give them energy long-term.
If you plan ahead it's easy to prepare these carbs in batches and then portion them out for each person. Try to avoid pre-packaged carbs because they aren't going to be as nutritious. Taking the extra time to prepare and package your own food will benefit your health long-term.
Plan for the ride home
We've covered packing a balanced lunch for your entire family, but there is one more time in the day that tends to give you a reason to eat junk or run to the nearest drive-thru: the ride home. Whether you're driving home from work or picking up the kids from school, everyone tends to be starving during that drive.
If you're a slave to fast food for after school, there are ways to break the habit! Number one: plan ahead! It's the best thing you can do for your wallet and your health.
If you want to be supermom, bring an individualized treat for every kid. Let them pick it out - I didn't say being supermom had to put more pressure on you! Remember, a treat doesn't have to be cookies or candy or fast food. Treats can be fruit, graham crackers, chips. Something that you wouldn't normally let your kids over-indulge in. Just make sure it's one serving or less if they pick something that isn't as healthy.
For your ride home, try to choose nutrient-dense foods.
Almonds or trail mix
Apple slices with almond butter
Chopped bell peppers
Squeeze pouches with applesauce or greek yogurt
Just make sure you can either eat it while driving or have your snack before you leave the office so that you're full when you get to the car.
If you’re ready to help your family live a healthier life, then let’s chat! Schedule a free discovery call with me and we can work together to reach your goals!