Now that children have returned from summer vacation, it’s again time to consider – or reconsider – what you’re packing in their school lunches.
The typical school lunchbox contains a sandwich, potato chips, cookies and milk or juice. That lunch has three things going for it: (1) It’s relatively inexpensive; (2) It doesn’t require much preparation time; and (3) Your children will eat it.
What that meal doesn’t do, however, is offer any brain-boosting nutrients to help improve academic performance at school. A healthy breakfast and lunch won’t ever replace studying, but certain foods are proven by researchers to improve cognitive function and help individuals reach their peak academic performance. Products labeled “natural,” like peanut butter and granola bars, and even fresh fruit, aren’t typically considered junk food, but high sugar levels can actually slow down brain functions. Low-fat or fat-free foods aren’t necessarily healthy, either, because the human body needs fats – healthy fats, though, like those found in nuts, eggs and salmon.
Here is what to pack, and what not to pack, in your child’s lunchbox:
Sandwiches are a staple of school lunches, and that’s unfortunate. Lunch meat contains a high amount of sodium, and a diet full of processed meats increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Parents often pair lunch meat with a slice or two of cheese, which adds protein and calcium to a sandwich while introducing saturated fats and salt.
- Do pack: gluten-free wrap, pita or sandwich bread with almond butter and a sliced banana, apple or organic no-sugar-added fruit spreads instead of jelly (Fiordifrutta Organic Fruit Spreads are some of our favorites); or carved slices of organic, grass-fed chicken or turkey
- Don’t pack: sandwiches on white bread with prepackaged deli meat, sliced cheese and mayonaise
Children don’t have the ability to warm their food at school, but parents can heat food in the morning and portion it into an insulated thermos. This expands healthy lunch options to a new level.
- Do pack: organic grass-fed chicken and turkey in chunks, vegetable-based soup cooked from fresh ingredients (not from a can), gluten-free pasta with organic sauce, quinoa mixed with a healthy protein or vegatables
- Don’t pack: canned ravioli, canned spaghetti, macaroni and cheese
SIDE DISHES & SNACKS
Supermarket aisles are stuffed with prepackaged, individually-wrapped items that easily can be tossed into a lunchbox. Unfortunately, these items don’t just offer empty calories, they also may introduce sugar rushes and carb crashes that inhibit academic performance.
- Do pack: whole fruit with a low glycemic index (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and green bananas), macadamia nuts, almonds, leafy greens, broccoli, avocado, carrots
- Don’t pack: raisins, mangoes, cracker packs, chips, fruit snacks, cookies, wafers, pudding cups, snack cakes, candy bars
Water is essential for hydration, and critically important for your child’s brain. Children should carry a BPA-free water bottle in addition to a drink packed in their lunchbox.
- Do pack: filtered water, spring water, almond or plant-based milk, bottled green tea
- Don’t pack: juices boxes, drink pouches, chocolate milk, soda
BONUS TIP: Pay close attention to your packaging habits. Plastic baggies and containers can leach chemicals into food, so chose stainless steel containers or plastic containers marked BPA-free. Glass or ceramic containers are preferred, but not necessarily ideal for children to handle at school. Visit our article for strategies to begin trimming plastics from your home.