Taking a lunch from home can save money and provide nutrition not found in fast food or school lunches. It does require some time but the rewards make it time well spent. Think about who you are feeding and what needs are specific to that person.
Brown bag lunches for children
For example, elementary age children have different needs than an adult or teenagers. Their lunches need to be small and a bit playful to hold their interest. Since they can’t eat a lot at one time, try to pack something that can be eaten during a different break in their day. Here are some ideas.
Prebaked dinner rolls cut in half will make tiny buns just right for little hands. Fill with sliced meatballs, ham and cheese, egg or chicken salad. Add a little container of dipping sauce or their favorite condiment. Throw in a snack sized bag of whole grain chips, baby carrots or small pieces of celery with dressing and a 100% juice boxed drink. Let them help you make a home-made trail mix and fill a small baggie with enough to share with a friend.
Spread fresh goat cheese and sliced tomato on rice cakes. Look for small bananas in the grocery. Most children like mandarin oranges so pack a few in a container. Make some pasta the night before and toss with olive oil. In the morning add cheese chunks, snap peas, bell pepper slices or whatever vegetable your child likes. Those little mini bagels can be spread with hummus or peanut butter and paired with string cheese and mini sized pretzels.
And just for fun, hide a note written to them somewhere in the lunch. Assure them that they are loved and thought of even when you can’t be with them. They may not remember the special thought put into their lunches, but they will remember the notes and you will know you did your best to help them grow strong and healthy.
Once your child reaches middle school, their bodies are changing as well as their appetites. Boys will need more of everything because they’re always hungry! Girls, on the other hand, often need to be encouraged to eat. They tend to become self-conscious about everything and will skip lunch all together. You can tell them all day long how their brain needs fuel to function, but, you might have better results if you tell them how the food they eat will help their bodies grow into what they want them to be.
Provide roasted or grilled vegetables dressed with vinegar and olive oil or a small salad with dressing on the side. Add some cheese squares or whole wheat crackers. Wrap up a piece of leftover chicken, a container of coleslaw and a roll. Add a cold drink and lunch is ready. Wrap a piece of turkey around a cheese stick and include a condiment for dipping. Add some whole grain pretzels and a small piece of fruit.
Alternate cooked chicken with raw vegetables on a skewer. Lay on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with honey mustard and wrap tightly. Include some sunflower seeds or nuts and a fruit juice drink. Add some grated carrots to a BBQ and send extra sauce in a container along with a bag of chips. Using a hot dog bun, make them a mini-hoagie. Pile on some meat and cheese and top with sautéed peppers and onions. Send a container with olive oil and vinegar to pour on just before eating so the bun doesn’t get soggy. Add a container of fruit cocktail for dessert and a soft drink.
The important thing is to get them to eat so their brain works properly and they can learn as much as they can!
Healthy lunch ideas in 20 minutes or less
Preparing meals is a daily task that can take a great deal of time and effort. When it comes to making lunch, parents want something that they or their child can prepare in the 30 minutes generally given for a lunch break. These healthy lunch ideas may be just the ticket!
Include your child when it comes to making healthy lunches. Whether or not they are headed to school, prepare food you know they will enjoy. Having their input will help you make something they will eat. In other words, if your child doesn’t like tortilla shells, you won’t prepare different wraps each day for lunch.
Be sure to include fresh fruit. A small bunch of grapes, a cut up apple, banana or other fruit will help take care of your child’s sweet tooth and be a healthier choice than dessert. When you bring the fruit home, wash it, cut it up and the place it in snack size plastic bags. This is a great idea when you prepare your child’s lunch for school.
Offer whole wheat crackers, low-fat lunch meat and low-fat cheese for your child to make their own ‘Lunchables’ style meal. This will allow them to feel like they have more control over what they eat but you’ll still be providing healthy alternatives. The pre-packaged choices really aren’t healthy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer something similar that is.
Sandwiches are often a necessity because they are quick to prepare. Rather than using white bread, which is considered to be less healthy, choose a whole grain variety. This will allow you to give them the sandwich they desire on healthier bread. Offer the ingredients separately so they have the choice of making a sandwich or eating the ingredients on their own.
Make tuna salad sandwiches, wrap them individually and then place them in the freezer overnight. When you take them out to put in your child’s lunchbox, they will thaw and be ready to eat when lunch time comes.
Take time to make a healthy snack mix including dried fruit, unsalted nuts, carob chips and pretzels. If you make this once a week and put it into single size servings, it will be ready when you need it.
Freeze juice boxes if you’re sending juice to school with your child for lunch. The juice will thaw in the hours before lunch and it will keep your child’s food cool. You can also use the same idea with other beverages and see how they quickly they thaw.
Lunches at home or for school don’t have to be difficult or time consuming. Start with things you know your child will like. Ask them what they prefer and you might be surprised at the answers. Remember to offer foods from each food group and you can’t go wrong.
Sandwiches versus hot lunches
Parents in some areas of the country were surprised to learn of a new regulation when their children returned to school last year. Rather than being given the option to send their children to school with a lunch prepared at home, they were informed all children would be eating lunches prepared at school. For some, this decision has raised concerns.
What has caused some school districts to require families purchase school lunches? And is the lunch provided at the school really that much better? Below are some ideas to consider, both for and against allowing children to bring lunches from home.
Some children have food allergies. It is unlikely that schools have the resources to arrange separate meals for all different types of food allergies. By allowing the parent to send a lunch from home, the child is ensured it will have foods which are safe for their particular dietary needs.
Parents have more control over how much money they spend. School lunches can be expensive. Not all families will qualify for free or reduced lunches. By allowing parents to prepare and send lunches from home, they are able to pack a lunch that fits within their family’s budget.
Some children are picky eaters. Schools prepare the same meals for all students and have very little variety. It won’t matter that little Joey doesn’t eat pizza, if that is what is served for lunch that day, he will either eat it or go hungry. By allowing parents to send lunches from home, they can be confident their child will eat something rather than go hungry.
Many school districts provide meals that are too high in fat, salt or sugar. By allowing parents to send lunches from home, the parent is able to control the foods their child eats and can ensure the choices are healthy.
School lunches are planned by a registered dietician to meet the children’s dietary needs. Many schools are concerned the child won’t bring healthy food to eat and want to ensure the children get at least one healthy meal each day.
Parents don’t always have the time to prepare a healthy lunch so the child ends up fixing it. This could lead to a child putting only non-healthy items into their lunchbox.
Most lunches children bring from home are cold rather than the hot lunches provided by the school.
Parents in school districts which forbid or limit bringing lunches from home often feel the government is trying to control things too much. While there may be some merit to requiring school lunches, the parent ultimately wants to be able to decide whether a sandwich from home is better than the hot lunch from school which their child won’t eat.
Substitution and alternative lunch ideas for special diets
Children with food allergies which require special diets often feel left out. They may want to enjoy the same snacks or foods as their friends but they know eating the wrong thing can have dire consequences. The same holds true when they eat lunches prepared by the school cafeteria.
While no state law requires that school systems cater to all children with special diets, they are encouraged to provide foods which are safe for these children to eat. Most children with special dietary needs will bring lunches from home to ensure they don’t accidentally eat foods for which they have an allergy.
What types of foods can you use as substitutes or alternatives for children with special diets? Here are some options to consider:
Vegetarians or vegans can be provided with soy-based foods. Soy protein can be seasoned to taste similar to most other protein sources as well as shaped to look similar. This will enable the child not to feel too different from their friends while providing the foods they can eat.
Many people are highly allergic to peanuts. If this is something your child has, you know how serious a peanut allergy can be. Perhaps your child would like sesame seed, almond or cashew butter instead. Keep in contact with your child’s school to determine days where peanuts won’t be used so your child can join their friends for lunch in the lunchroom.
One of the most recent allergies to be recognized is an allergy to gluten. Look on the grocery store shelves and you’ll see “gluten-free” this and “gluten-free” that. Schools may be more able to cater to students with gluten allergies as more and more people are finding they do have intolerance to gluten.
For children with an egg allergy, look for foods which do not contain eggs. Those having issues with dairy can look for non-dairy items. Both of these should be relatively easy to find in grocery stores but may not be offered as alternatives in your child’s school.
As a parent you have every right to be concerned about the foods your child is served at school. Establish a good working relationship with the head of your child’s cafeteria. They understand your concerns and may be able to make substitutions or alternative food available for your child with a food allergy. Just remember, you never know what is possible until you ask.