Back to school season is upon us, and with it comes the return of school lunch. Building a lunch that’s nutrient-dense, delicious, and kid-friendly isn’t as tough as it sounds. (We promise!) The key to building a healthy and easy school lunch is all about working from the right template.
A well-balanced lunch will include a main dish/protein source, organic veggies and fruits, and a (optional) healthy treat. Using this template will take some of the creative work out of building a lunch and provide a structure that’s easy to fill with foods you know your child will enjoy.
Let’s walk through what this process looks like in action. But first…
Start with the Right Ingredients
Choose organic ingredients whenever possible to reduce your child’s exposure to toxic pesticides and chemicals. Pesticide ingestion has been linked to immune issues, cancer, developmental problems, Parkinson’s disease, and endocrine disruption.¹ Food additives, dyes, and preservatives have also been linked to behavioral issues in children and ADHD. When it comes to vegetables and fruits, consider using our Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen guides to aid you in selecting produce with the least pesticide residue.
Whenever possible try to avoid “the great whites:” refined white flour and white sugar. Not only are these ingredients stripped of their nutrients, but they also have a negative impact on blood sugar levels, contribute to the formation of disease and obesity, and increase cravings. Refined sugar can easily be replaced with alternative sweeteners like xylitol, stevia, honey, and maple syrup. Swap refined grains for whole gluten-free grains like quinoa, brown rice, and millet.
A Word About Food Allergies
A food allergy is a hypersensitivity to food, whether it is an IgE response or an IgG response. At The Wellness Way, we test for both IgE and IgG antibodies to gain a full picture of the immune system’s response. If not properly tested, food allergies can cause chronic inflammation in the body that can contribute to many illnesses and autoimmune conditions. This is why we believe that food allergy testing is a critical step on the road to wellness!
If your child has been tested for their food allergies, it’s very important to build a school lunch that avoids those allergies. Remember that a “healthy food” for one individual may be unhealthy for another if they are allergic to it. If you don’t know your child’s food allergies, consider having them tested at one of our clinics.
Building a Healthy School Lunch
Protein will help keep your child satisfied and prevent those dreaded mid-afternoon energy crashes. Both organic animal protein and plant-based protein from beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds are great options. Ideas include:
- Homemade meatballs
- Hard boiled eggs
- Chicken strips
- Turkey, chicken, or beef burger patties with organic ketchup
- Hummus with gluten-free crackers
- Lettuce wraps
- Nitrate-free bacon or sliced turkey or ham (plain or on a sandwich)
- Lunch meat wraps (lunch meat wrapped around apple and cheese slices)
- Peanut butter and banana roll-ups (or other nut/seed butter)
- Tuna salad, egg salad, or chicken salad (plain or on a sandwich)
- Avocado chicken salad (chicken, avocados, tomatoes, and black beans)
- Chili (kept warm in a thermos)
- Quinoa or gluten-free pasta salad with beans and veggies
- Protein kabobs: layer cubes of cheese (organic and grass-fed) with cubed meat and tomatoes or berries
Organic Vegetables and Fruits
Colorful fruits and vegetables are loaded with nutrients including antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are an essential part of a healthy diet. Try to include more vegetables than fruit in your child’s lunchbox. To make veggies more appealing, consider including a dipping sauce (dairy-free ranch dressing, hummus, nut or seed butter, salsa, guacamole, etc.) or asking your child to help you choose which veggies go in their box. Kids will be more likely to eat something if they choose it themselves!
- Broccoli and cauliflower
- Bell peppers
- Peas and peapods
- Green beans
- Cherry tomatoes
- Berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.)
- Dried apricots or dates
Organic Healthy Treats
The best lunchbox treats will be the ones that are homemade where you can control the quality of ingredients. Always remember to read labels carefully on packaged foods such as crackers or chips to avoid artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, refined sugars and flours, GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, etc.
A few ideas:
- Trail mix
- Homemade granola or granola bars
- Chips and salsa/guacamole
- Gluten-free crackers, rice cakes, or pretzels
- Homemade gluten-free muffins or baked goods
- Peanut butter/nut butter for dipping fruit
- Small piece of organic chocolate
- Full-fat yogurt or dairy-free yogurt (organic and no sugar added)*
*If your kids don’t enjoy plain yogurt, try lightly sweetening it yourself with xylitol, stevia, or raw honey.
What About Snacks?
Healthy snacks enjoyed at school or at home after the school day is over should include a source of protein and/or fat to encourage satiety and blood sugar balance. Keeping snacks handy both at home and on-the-go is a smart way to make healthy eating easy, attainable, and sustainable for active kids!
- Apple or pear slices with nut/seed butter
- Trail mix
- Sliced veggies or chips with hummus, guacamole, or dairy-free ranch dressing
- Celery sticks with nut/seed butter and raisins on top (“ants on a log”)
- Rice cakes topped with mashed avocado and sliced hard boiled eggs
- Beef jerky (organic, grass-fed, and sugar-free)
- Chia seed pudding
- Cheese (organic and grass-fed) with gluten-free crackers
- Hard boiled eggs
- Smoothies (freeze and add to lunchbox frozen to thaw before snacktime)
- Roasted chickpeas
- Full-fat yogurt or dairy-free yogurt (organic and no sugar added) with berries
- Homemade protein balls
Make building school lunches and snacks easy on yourself by keeping these printables handy for reference when you’re shopping and meal prepping!
For More Inspiration: Kid-Friendly Recipes We Love
These recipes are Wellness Way approved and kid approved too!