Getting kids to eat a healthy diet isn’t always easy. Carb heavy school lunches are expensive and don’t promote healthy food choices. With the school year just around the corner, it’s time to get organized for packing school lunches. Providing your kids with healthy lunch options doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. The key to success is having a plan in place. These time-saving tips will help you pack healthy lunches that don’t break the bank:• Leftovers: When planning your shopping list, include extra proteins that can be used for lunches during the week. Utilizing meat from dinner the night before can stretch your food budget. Try leftover meatloaf sandwiches or a chicken or turkey salad. Avoid serving lunch meats as they can be pricey, high in salt and low in nutritional value.
• Whole foods: Use as many whole foods as possible. Processed foods tend to be high in sodium and sugar. Provide high protein / low sugar options to help your kids feel full longer and avoid a mid-afternoon sugar low.
• Buy in bulk: If you live near a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s, buy in bulk. Crackers, nuts, beef jerky, and fruit snacks can be stored in a cool dry place and last for several months. Perishables like fruits, veggies and cheese sticks, can be refrigerated properly to prolong freshness. Fresh fruit and veggie smoothies can be made in advance and stored in the freezer. They taste great and are packed with vitamins. Use reusable snack bags to store nuts, crackers or fruits and veggies. Pack ahead of time in single-serving size pouches so kids can grab and go on the way to school.
• Use Coupons and shop store brands: In many cases store brands are less expensive and taste the same. Use bulk bins at the grocery store for nuts and dried fruits.
• Have a plan: Make a list and stick to it. Shop with the purpose of feeding your family healthy options at home and at school. Spend an afternoon each weekend to cook for the upcoming week. Prepare lunch options ahead of time where possible. Things like egg salad, chicken/turkey salad can be made in advance to avoid hectic mornings.
• Fresh is best: Shop at local farmer’s markets to get the freshest produce possible and incorporate fresh fruits and veggies into your weekly plan. It may take a bit more time, but you'll be purchasing fruits and veggies at the height of freshness with optimal nutrition.
One of the toughest parts of packing lunches is coming up with creative ideas kids will eat. Try packing these easy healthy lunch alternatives that your kids will love:• Chicken or Turkey Salad Rolls: Combine diced smoked chicken or turkey, toasted almonds, halved seedless red grapes, diced green apples, thinly sliced celery, mayonnaise and mustard. Store in an airtight container; serve on a whole wheat hot dog bun. Include Wheat Thins and a low sugar beverage.
• Turkey-Cheese Pita Pockets: Spread a low fat softened cheese inside a whole wheat pita, then fill with roasted turkey slices, baby spinach leaves and cucumber slices. Include dried apricots or banana chips and a low sugar beverage.
• BLTA Wraps: Mash an avocado with lemon juice, then spread on a whole wheat wrap. Top with crumbled bacon, chopped tomatoes, and thinly sliced romaine lettuce. Roll up and wrap in parchment or wax paper to secure. Add a piece of fruit and a low sugar beverage.
• Easy Italian Hero: Toss thinly sliced iceberg lettuce with a mixture of yellow mustard and mayonnaise. Assemble a sandwich on a split hoagie roll using sliced provolone, salami, turkey, tomatoes, and the iceberg lettuce mixture. Serve with broccoli and ranch dip and a low sugar beverage.
• Peanut Banana Burrito: Spread peanut butter on a toasted whole-wheat wrap, then sprinkle with crumbled bacon and drizzle with honey. Place a whole banana at the edge of the wrap, then roll, pressing gently to break the banana and form a cylinder shape. Or, slice the banana, scatter, and roll. Include celery and carrot sticks and a low sugar beverage.
• Curried Egg Salad Pinwheels: Combine chopped hard-boiled eggs, raisins, sliced celery, mayonnaise and curry powder. Trim the crust from a slice of bread and press to flatten. Spread with a layer of egg salad, then roll and secure with a toothpick. Include fruit salad and a low sugar beverage.