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8 Tips for Greener, Healthier School Lunches (and GIVEAWAYS!)

It’s back to school time!  Whether you’re anxiously anticipating, or dreading the day, it’s coming soon!  And with a new school year comes a new opportunity to educate your children about healthy lifestyles.  Whether your just looking to expand your repertoire in your already healthy-eater’s lunchbox, or need some ideas for your picky processed food lover, here are some strategies for maximizing nutrition and minimizing empty calories and waste. 

The Eddy bottle in action at snack time

The Eddy bottle in action at snack time

1.  REUSABLE WATER BOTTLES:  Keeping your student hydrated is essential for brain function and concentration.  According to Registered Dietitian Kate Geagan, even just 2% dehydration can leave your child feeling sluggish!  Frequent trips to the water fountain can be disruptive and are not always practical during the school day.  Bringing a personal water bottle to school, either to keep at your child’s desk or in his/her backpack, is the best way to ensure your child has the opportunity to stay hydrated.  The “Eddy” bottle from Camelbak is a great option that is spill-proof and comes in a wide assortment of colors.  Camelbak was gracious enough to not only provide us one to test for ourselves (two thumbs up!), but also another one for a lucky reader (keep reading for details).

2.  LOSE EXCESS PACKAGING:  You can tell a lot about the quality of someone’s lunch by what’s left behind when they’re finished eating.  Lunchboxes filled with wrappers and plastic packaging usually equals more processed foods than an empty one, or one with compostable leftovers.  And more processed foods almost always mean more of the bad stuff (sodium, fat, sugars), and less of the good (protein, vitamins, and minerals).  Instead of individually packaged chips, cookies, and crackers, send carrots, berries, or dried fruit.  You can save money AND be more eco-friendly by purchasing yogurt, cheese, applesauce, and hummus in larger sizes, then dividing it out into reusable tupperware containers throughout the week.

Almond butter/honey sandwich + apricots + mangos = no-waste lunch!

Almond butter/honey sandwich + apricots + mangos = no-waste lunch!

3.  LOAD UP ON FRUITS AND VEGGIES:  Despite my best efforts, I’ll be the first to admit my son is not a veggie-lover.  Every now and then I can talk him into carrots, and he will tolerate cooked veggies finely chopped into sauces.    But thankfully he would gladly eat his body weight in fruits and legumes on a daily basis.  Know your kid and pack fruits and veggies that you realistically think they will eat.  Carrots, celery, peas and beans are great savory options that pack easily and taste great either by themselves or with a healthy dip.  Sliced apples, strawberries, blueberries, pears, and grapes make for a no-mess sweet finish.

4.  PROTEIN POWER:  Back when I was teaching (in the pre-kiddo days), I had one student that would always bring a jelly sandwich for lunch.  That’s it.  Jelly and white bread.  No wonder she was always clambering to be the first to get an afternoon snack – her diet was completely lacking in the building blocks that every person (especially kids that grow like weeds!) needs to build and repair cells.  Nut butters are a great choice, but be sure to find out your school’s policies on food allergens before sending in a PBJ.  Beans, cheese, yogurt, and hard-boiled eggs are also good protein-packed options.

5.  FUEL UP WITH GOOD FATS:  Fats are essential for a child’s development, and will also ward off hunger pangs during afternoon classes.  But all fats are not created equal – avocados and hummus provide a host of nutrients, and are a much healthier choice than the empty calories of the high-fat meats and french fries lurking in the school cafeteria.  

CLIFKID_Zbar_fan_of_flavors

6.  EAT THE WHOLE (GRAIN) THING:  Encouraging your child to acquire a taste for whole grains will help set him or her up for less health problems later in life – heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and even some types of cancers!  Use whole-grain bread or corn tortillas for sandwiches, whole-grain pasta for pasta salads, or brown rice for rice pudding.  A good on-the-go option before soccer practice are Clif Kid Z-bars – they offer 8 grams of whole-grains, as well as 2-3 grams of protein and 2-3 grams of fiber.  (If I let him, C would also eat his body weight in Zbars…) 

7.  MAKE CHANGES GRADUALLY:  If your child has grown accustomed to a daily dose of Mickey D’s this summer, don’t expect them to be psyched about a lunchbox filled with fruits and veggies.  Replace one or two things at a time, so that your child can get used to the change.  For example, once you’ve successfully made the switch from white to wheat bread, THEN think about adding a few sprouts…

8.  EAT RIGHT AT HOME:  Don’t send your children mixed messages.  If they are expected to eat healthy at school, expect the same at home.  That’s not to say that it’s not okay to splurge every now and then, but your child should constantly see you modeling the eating behavior and food choices that you want them to have.  The “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality is not a good one.

Whole-grain spaghetti and broccoli (don't worry the Crag-Daddy has some too, just in a separate bowl ;)

Don’t worry, we all have something green on our plate for dinner…but some prefer it in a separate bowl 😉

Nobody is perfect when it comes to nutrition (or anything else, for that matter!),  but providing your child with a nutritious and enjoyable lunch is one of the many ways we as parents can steer our children towards a healthy lifestyle.  Many thanks to Camelbak and Clif for sponsoring this post – they’ve each offered products for a giveaway (an Eddy bottle and a 12-pack of Zbars, respectively).  There will be a separate winner for each (so two winners in total).  To enter, just leave a comment below with one or more of your personal strategies for healthy school lunches.  As always, liking Cragmama, Camelbak, or Clif Kid on facebook will earn you additional entries – just be sure to leave that info in the comments!  Contest will run through Friday, August 23rd, and then the winners will be announced.  Best of luck! 

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13 Responses to “8 Tips for Greener, Healthier School Lunches (and GIVEAWAYS!)”

  1. Laurissa

    We have our 3yr old hooked on dates, fig bars and various nuts (cashus are softer for chewing). It makes me feel like these are healthy alternatives. and we have been making our own granola bars, mostly out of oatmeal, nuts, dried cheeries (or blueberries or aprocots), dates, etc. We love the camlebak water bottle and the cliff kids bars too.

    Reply

  2. Karen

    My 14 month old LOVES my eddy water bottle.

    Reply

  3. Sam

    Heck Erica, this is great advice for everyone. I pack a lunch everyday and about the only thing left at the end is a sandwich container, water bottle and maybe a zip lock bag from my carrots

    Reply

  4. Krisitn Troska

    We eat a rainbow at home. We also pack a rainbow to go. I also like Cragmama, Camelbak, and Clif Kid on facebook.

    Reply

  5. We try to avoid using plastic so we like the Planet box lunch boxes. We have 2 so we don’t have to wait for one to get clean in the dishwasher before packing the next lunch. Our trick with veggies is just to keep offering them. Eventually I think kids just get used to it. Dipping sauces also make veggies more fun- hummus, healthy ranch (made with yogurt), etc. Oh, and coconut is an awesome and tasty source of healthy fat. We make a great coconut spread with coconut butter and low fat yogurt. It’s great on sweet potatoes and helps with the nutrient absorption.

    Reply

  6. Joy

    These are all awesome tips! I find that compromise has become a very useful strategy – when my little guy was in Kindergarten I never heard many complaints about lunches. Now that he’s going into 2nd grade he wants to have a much greater say about what goes into the lunch box. Although it can be trying at times, I also try to use it as a learning opportunity to explain to him why certain choices are better than others (carrots vs. goldfish for example). I’d like to say that the carrots always win out over the goldfish but we all know that is not the truth 🙂

    Reply

  7. Paula

    Yes, modeling is so important! It hit me one day when a parent of one of my seventh grade students said, “We had to go out and purchase almond butter because he sees a jar of it on your desk everyday.” I had never sung the praises of it to the kids; it was just there because of the quick easy lunch item that it is. I’d grab it on my way out the door, probably with a banana.

    On another note, our two year old is not yet ready for school, but she too wants to emulate our behavior (for the most part.) She wants water because we drink water, she wants a Lara bar when out at the cliff cuz Daddy eats them…she wants ice cream at night, too. No, we’re not all perfect! Protein, non-refined carbs, and good fats at every meal is our rule of thumb.

    Reply

  8. Erica

    Laurissa – C LOVES cashews, and eats them by the bowl-ful! Such a great snacking option 🙂

    Karen – My little guy always had a fetish for water bottles too : )

    Sam – sounds like you need to trade the ziploc baggie in for something reusable 😉 Good on you for packing a lunch rather than going out every day though 🙂

    Kristin – The “rainbow” idea is an easy way to help kids choose good variety (except when it comes to Skittles and M n M’s ;))

    Aimee – I had to google PlanetBox – those lunch boxes look awesome! Which “system” do you use for your kiddos?

    Joy – Good point, as compromise is key to a LOT of things, parenting and otherwise. My strategy so far is to keep the goldfish/unhealthies out of our house, but not make a fuss when he’s offered them elsewhere (preschool and church snacks, etc.)

    Paula – Good job modeling without having to say a word! That’s awesome your student wanted the almond butter b/c he saw it on your desk – it probably speaks volumes to his respect for you as a teacher 😉

    Reply

  9. Corina

    I try to make or pack my own things for on-the-go food. It doesn’t really take too much time to cut up my own apples, make a pb and j, and put together some nuts and raisins (rather than buying a ton of tiny little packages. I also like Cragmama on facebook!

    Reply

  10. rebecca

    We’re very fortunate in our school district. Everything is made from scratch with local meats and produce, they even make all the bread. Even so, packing a lunch ensures that my daughter doesn’t go for the less healthy options. Unfortunately the kindergarten classrooms have the kiddos take turns bringing afternoon snack and the only guideline is it can’t be made or prepared in a home kitchen. Lots of goldfish:(

    Reply

  11. Debra Lee

    This would be great for when the neighbor kids come over looking for a snack!

    Reply

  12. Tara

    We haven’t started school yet, but my toddler has become so picky about veggies, it’s infuriating. I do love to make up a good breakfast smoothie and he rarely passes those up. I can usually get away with some spinach and/or chia seeds in the smoothie and he is none the wiser!

    Reply

  13. I love hummus wraps for lunch… a simple tortilla with a generous amount of humus and cucumber in the middle is filling and delicious. 🙂 Also, red and orange peppers are super sweet but have more nutrients than green ones! Strawberries dipped in sugar are a great healthy dessert too! 😀 The yummier my lunch is, the easier it is for me to eat well!

    Reply

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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN