Want to pack healthy lunches and snacks for your kids, but can’t seem to find the time? You’re not alone. According to recent Nielsen data, only 22% of school lunches are homemade, and parents rank convenience above nutrition.
Studies consistently show that kids who eat a well-balanced diet perform better in school than those who don’t. So while you’re picking up school essentials like pencils and notebooks, don’t forget to restock your kitchen with easy-to-prepare foods that provide your child with the nutrients they need.
A well-balanced lunch should include a serving of:
- Whole or enriched grains for energy
- Protein like nut butter, fish or poultry for staying power
- Fruit or veggies for vitamins and fiber
- Dairy like milk, yogurt or cheese.
Here are lunch and snack ideas that make the grade and are ready in minutes:
1. Whole wheat pasta with broccoli, tuna, grated cheddar and cherry tomatoes
Whole wheat pasta (or a blend of whole wheat and enriched pasta) will give kids a fiber and energy boost, and the tuna will help them stay full for longer. Add in at least 1 cup of broccoli and tomatoes for vitamins and minerals. Pack with a piece of fruit and low-fat yogurt.
2. Turkey and cheese roll up on a whole-wheat wrap
I like to take a twist on regular sandwiches by using a healthier wrap in place of white bread. Look for wraps that are low in fat, contain at least 5 grams of fiber and are made with whole grains, like Flatout 100% Whole Wheat. For just 100 calories, these wraps pack in 8 grams of fiber and 9 grams of filling protein. Load the wrap with dark, leafy greens, 2-3 ounces of turkey and 1-2 slices of low-fat cheese. Complete the lunchbox with a fruit serving.
3. Vegetarian Three Bean Chili
A well-stocked pantry with essentials including spices, canned beans, tomatoes and other veggies equals no-fuss lunches in minutes. I make meals using canned staples at least twice a week, like this Three Bean Chili. It takes just 15 minutes and can be prepared ahead and packed in school lunches. Add whole grain crackers or a slice of multigrain bread, a piece of fruit and a dairy option and you have a well-balanced, healthy lunch. Canned fruits and veggies are available year-round and they’re so convenient, healthier homemade meals can become a reality more often.
The golden rule for a healthy snack is to make sure it has a good mix of complex carbs, protein and fiber. Here are three to try:
1. In-Shell Pistachios
Kids love crunchy snacks, but salty chips are calorie-rich and nutrient-poor. Pack a crunchy surprise like in-shell pistachios instead. A serving of pistachios offers 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein to keep kids satisfied. For the same 160-calorie serving, you get around 49 nuts compared to 15 chips—plus 3 times the fiber and protein.
2. Hummus and Veggies
Kids love to dip! And studies show that when veggies are served with a dip, kids eat more of the beneficial vegetables. Rich, creamy hummus provides fiber and protein to keep kids feeling full. Serve it with fresh cut veggies for a convenient snack or lunch box addition.
3. Cheese with Fruit and Crackers
Low-fat cheese is a great way to pack more protein and calcium into kids’ diets. Combine with whole wheat crackers and fruit, like apple slices or seedless grapes, for added fiber and energy.