Tips for Healthy Living Featuring: Back to School, Back to Lunch

Sharon Stewart, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Sharon Stewart, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Back to School, Back to Lunch

Mid-August, it’s still summer, and already we’re closing in on back-to-school plans.  Among those plans is the need to come up with healthy lunches for the kids – which can feel like a never-ending challenge.

We have a few ideas for you.

Let’s start with the ‘Big Three’ – protein and grains, fruit and veggies, and of course, snacks and treats.

Grains and protein are ideal for sustained energy. Think PB&J with whole grain bread, fruit-only jam and healthy nut butter. Or whole grain crackers and cheese (try Babybel minis or string cheese from our dairy case), a bag of low-sugar cereal with nuts, or tortilla and meat roll-ups.

Fruits and veggies offer a wealth of nutrients, healthy fiber and a touch of sweetness. Here’s a rule of thumb for younger kids: food that’s easy to handle is more likely to be eaten. Bite-sized pieces, such as cucumber slices, sweet carrots, a sectioned orange, dried fruit, snap peas or cut-up fruit, can be a home run. Or get creative and use cookie cutters to cut shapes from melon or zucchini. That adds an element of fun – great for kids who like to play with their food!

Snacks and treats: Children need consistent fuel for body and mind. Good snack options include trail mix (offered in our bulk section), fruit, cheese, popcorn or baked chips. Offer your kids at least two choices. That way they can have one at snack time and another at lunch. Make them easy to eat by putting then in grab-and-go reusable containers.

Additional tips for packing healthy lunches:

  1. Involve your children in the packing process. Ask them what types of fruits and vegetables they’d like. Cut them into easy-to-eat pieces, such as apple slices with a little lemon to retain the color, grapes, pineapple chunks or baby carrots.
  2. Provide, don’t deprive. When we completely restrict high-fat, high-sugar foods for the sake of providing good nutrition, it can backfire. When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers. Give your child a treat, but keep the portion small. There are some nice options in our bulk bins.
  3. If you pick your children up from school, it’s practically guaranteed they will be ravenous. It’s a perfect opportunity to satiate their hunger and provide good nutrition! Before heading out to the car, pack some cut-up fruit, cheese chunks or nuts and water for them to enjoy on the ride home.
  4. Not all protein bars are created equal. Many are just glorified candy bars. Read the nutrition facts label. Look for at least five grams of protein, three grams of fiber and five or fewer grams of sugar. And try to choose a bar that’s mostly real food, such as fruit, nuts or whole grains like oatmeal.
  5. Set a good example at dinnertime. If children come home to fast food and pizza most evenings, they’re getting mixed signals. Taking the time to plan and prepare healthier meals will not only be good for you but for the entire household. No time? No problem. Pick up a tasty heat-and-serve dinner from us. Add a green salad on the side and serve up some fresh fruit for dessert.

Sometimes the most important thing about assembling school lunches is packing what your kids will eat, rather than what you WANT them to eat. By letting them choose from an array of healthy options, you will be less likely to see candy wrappers in their lunch box at the end of the day.




Sharon Stewart is our latest and greatest Tips for Healthy Living writer. Sharon Stewart is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). She offers personalized, one-on-one nutrition counseling in the Palo Alto area. She specializes in clients with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders as well as nutrition check-ups for general well-being. She also works for Plus Health Management, providing nutrition counseling to the employees on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park.  Feel free to contact her over at Sharon Stewart, R.D. Nutrition Consulting.

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