“Why are the hot lunch foods always so full of garbage,” Erica asks as she looks at the hot lunch calendar and shakes her head. Unfortunately, when it comes to a healthy lunch for school, the only option is bringing a lunch from home – unless you’re at one of those schools doing Farm-to-Table lunch program. Unfortunately, most Americans are stuck in habit of eating fast foods and junk foods. Here’s how to keep your kids eating healthy this school year.
“Hot Lunch” and Lunchables Are Full of Junk.
Sending a lunch from home doesn’t mean a picking up a few “Lunchables” from the grocery store. Between hot lunches and Lunchables, you’ll find lots of undesirable ingredients, including:
- refined flours
- refined sugars
- artificial flavors
- artificial colors
- high fructose corn syrup
- soy lecithin
- hydrogenated oils
- mechanically separated meats
What’s mechanically separated meat? The USDA explains that mechanically separated meat is a “paste-like and batter-like meat product.” This product comes from forcing bones with meat still attached through a sieve-like device under high pressure, to separate the bone from the edible meat. In 1982, it was considered safe. In 2004, however, the Food Safety and Inspection Service changed their rules to protect their customers. Mechanically separated beef is now considered inedible, while pork and poultry merely must be labeled and usually end up in foods like hot dogs or lunch meats, due to the product’s batter-like texture. 
Pack a Healthy Lunch at Home
We have some tips to help you ensure your kids are getting a healthy lunch. Let’s prepare our kids for a healthy adulthood and get an “A” in school lunches! Here are seven easy-to-prepare healthy lunch ideas to try.
1. Empower your Kids
Offer healthy choices and let your children pack their own lunches. This is a terrific way to make things easier for you, and having your kids take part in daily tasks empowers them. It helps them learn how to make the right decisions later in life. That’s what being a parent is about – teaching our kids to be adults who make good choices.
2. Use this FREE, Printable List
Linked below is a list of healthy school lunch ideas you can use. Add to them, based on your child’s allergies and tastes. Our tips include lots of whole foods loaded with nutrients to keep your family healthy.
Print this list and post it on your refrigerator or in your pantry to make it easy for your kids to become familiar with healthy choices. This makes it easy for you and your kids to make healthy choices when packing lunch.
3. Include Healthy Protein and Healthy Fats
Include healthy proteins and fats to help your children get through the day and support them in learning new things. Healthy protein choices are not deli meats with many additives or meats raised with antibiotics and hormones. Look for grass-fed, organic, free-range, or wild-caught fish. Good choices are turkey, chicken, beef, raw seeds, salmon, beans, lentils, eggs, and nuts.
Healthy fat choices are nuts, seeds, olives, cheese (from grass-fed, organic milk), raw cacao butter, and eggs. Healthy oils in salad dressings are also an excellent way to include healthy fats.
4. Keep the Lunch Box Colorful
Colorful fruits and veggies have tons of nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which contribute to vibrant health. Keep the variety up by having lots of different fruits and vegetables on hand. It might be easy for your kids to reach for the same options every time, so make it a game to mix it up. Tell them to look for a specific color or a vegetable that starts with the first letter of their name. Change it up by suggesting they look for food that matches their shirt or begins with the same letter as a cartoon character’s first name.
5. Send Healthy Treats
You can’t be there to support them in making good snack choices at school. So, make their treats healthy ones like this cookie dough hummus. Make it fun. They don’t even have to know it’s good for them!
6. Prepare and Portion
Preparation is critical to making those mornings go smoother. Prepare in advance by cutting up fruits and veggies, portioning out snacks, and making main dishes. Freeze pre-portioned soups so they can be heated up in the morning and thrown in the thermos easily. A little preparation will make your morning more manageable and your kids healthier!
7. Mix It Up and Keep It Fun
If you stick to the same foods day after day, your kids are going to get bored. Avoid getting into a rut of eating the same things. Mix it up! Find different foods to add to the list. That’s why it’s customizable. Encourage your kids to try one new food a week to get them into trying new things and experimenting.
Use different ways of cutting and packaging the food to keep it fun. A crinkle cutter and cookie cutters can help to change the food’s appearance. If you keep up the variety, your kids will be excited for lunchtime, and you’ll be happy they’re eating healthy!
Benefits of an “A” for School Lunch
Short-term benefits of packing a healthy lunch may include improved mood, better energy, fewer headaches, and increased positivity. These are all important for your kids to keep up their grades and enthusiasm for after-school activities. The long-term impacts of dropping the sugar, refined flours, and additives from your kids’ food are reduced inflammation, lower obesity rates, and better health in general. You don’t need to shake your head at the school lunch calendar now that you have these easy-to-make ideas and your printable list.
**Bonus** Healthy Lunch Ideas: Recipes for snacks and lunch:
- Cookie Dough Hummus Recipe: This cookie dough hummus recipe is perfect for a school lunch and has healthy chickpeas to replace the flour and egg. They won’t miss a thing!
- Ranch Dressing: They’ll be asking for more veggies with this creamy Ranch Dressing Recipe. It’s healthy, egg-free, dairy-free, and gluten-e. Put it on salads or use less liquid and enjoy it as a dip. Try it with organic heirloom carrots and organic heirloom tomatoes.
- Guacamole: There are many great healthy fats in avocados, and they are a nutritional powerhouse full of vitamins and minerals. Put it in an airtight container to keep it fresh until lunchtime.
- Sweet Potato Chips: Kids love this sweet potato chips recipe. This healthy snack will add a happy crunch to their lunch box when you know it’s made with vitamin-rich sweet potatoes and coconut oil.
- Glazed Nuts: Another sweet treat that they won’t know is healthy. Depending on food allergies, we like pecans, cashews, and almonds!
- Quinoa Non-pasta Salad: Quinoa is a high-protein grain-like seed that makes our Quinoa Non-Pasta Salad an easy entree. Quinoa is gluten-free and full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber!
- Honey Apple Chicken Salad: This delicious Honey Apple Chicken Salad recipe is excellent for healthy lunches on a gluten-free wrap or bread. It’s also a great snack on celery or gluten-free crackers.
- Butternut Squash Soup: A thermos adds many options to the lunch menu. All your favorite soups and creamy dishes make a great choice. This Butternut Squash Soup recipe is a good one.
Keep Your Kids Healthy
Even healthy foods can make kids sick if they’re allergic to them. Some of us at The Wellness Way have had allergies to lettuce and carrots. We thought we were eating healthy but were instead creating inflammation with every salad or carrot stick. Have you had your kids’ food allergies tested? We recommend testing every year as the gut microbiome and immune system change in response to traumas, toxins, and thoughts. Contact a Wellness Way Clinic today!