Making school lunches kids will actually eat every day probably falls between sorting socks and scrubbing the shower on moms’ favorite to-dos. And left to their own devices, kids might fill their new lunch boxes with Oreos and chips – or the now-shunned in many schools, a PB&J sandwich.
Mom of three, Andrea Donsky, a registered holistic nutritionist and author of Unjunk Your Junk Food, understands completely. Making lunches is not her favorite thing, either. “It’s hard with kids because kids are picky.”
So, we asked her for a few tips to make this task a little less tedious.
Give kids choices.
Before school starts, Donsky says she likes to give her kids paper and pens and ask them to write down five to 10 options of what they want in their school lunch. She makes sure they include items for their main meal, fruits and vegetables and a snack.
“I then take their lists and know that I have options to choose from and shop accordingly.” This way she knows lunches won’t come home untouched or traded with other students.
While most kids love carbs, she says it is important kids have protein, because it helps keep blood sugar regulated. Try things like a hard-boiled egg with Himalayan salt, all-beef hotdogs, chicken nuggets and avocado as good choices. If your kid is one who likes deli meat on their sandwiches, look for nitrate-free meats and organic options.
“You can get healthy options so you don’t have to feel as guilty,” she says.
Pick nutrient-dense foods rather than empty calories to keep tummies full and healthy, but don’t refuse snacks kids might love because they might not be as healthy.
“For me, it’s all about balance,” Donsky says. “It’s all about the ingredients and quality of the ingredients.”
Don’t put snacks off limit; just find healthier options. Sometimes, though, it is hard to be sure without studying labels. MadeGood makes it easier to pick a snack since the snacks are free of the top eight allergens, are organic, non-GMO and vegan. You can even create a healthy trail mix with the Made Good granola, goji berries or cranberries, chocolate chips and shredded coconut. For salty snacks, try the air pop snacks, seaweed snacks or make your own popcorn at home with avocado oil.
Include one vegetable and fruit.
Find at least one vegetable your kid likes and include it, such as cucumbers, peppers or carrot sticks. Include a dressing like hummus, salsa, shredded coconut or Greek yogurt to make your own dressing. Avoid store-bought dressings that have high fructose corn syrup. For fruits, many kids like apples with lemon juice, cut-up oranges and bananas. Bento boxes or other types of compartment lunch containers work great. If your kids shun vegetables, easily sneak in the goodness by including MadeGood snacks; each kid-approved yummy bar or single pack offers a full serving of veggies.
Learn to read labels.
Make sure the kids’ favorites don’t have additives, especially food coloring, which has been known to make kids hyper. For instance, if your kids like fruit snacks, look for the all-fruit snacks, not ones with food coloring.
Keep them hydrated.
Make sure to include an insulated water bottle every day.
Ultimately, Donsky says depending on your kids’ ages, getting them involved early can make lunch-making an easier to-do to check off the list.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.