Say goodbye to summer, because… It’s back to school time for the kiddos! It’s easy to see why the summer flew by so quickly with baseball games, football practice start-ups, summer camps, swim lessons, and trips up north. The summers seem to be busier and more active than ever! Throughout all of these summer activities most parents are adamant about their kids staying hydrated and adequately fueled. Just because summer is coming to an end, this immaculate attention to nutrition and hydration should not falter – for you or your kids!
Children need healthy food and beverage choices even more throughout the school day to help them learn and grow. In fact, several studies indicate that sound nutrition is critical for providing the building blocks of the brain, like alpha-linoleic acid (omega-3 fatty acids), that help improve academic performance¹. As a registered dietitian who has worked in schools, I have oftentimes seen students bring foods from home that are laden in sugar, saturated fat, and too high in calories for one meal, which can actually decrease brain function.
Making sure your child takes off for school with a healthy lunch in hand, or planned from the school’s menu, is one of the most important things you can do for their health. School meals are healthier than ever, as the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 set meal and nutrition standards on all foods served to students – these include daily fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, low-fat and fat-free dairy products, and lean sources of protein; as well as parameters for calories, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. However, if your child enjoys a packed lunch from home, here are some easy and healthy choices:
Banana and Sunbutter Roll Ups
Celery and Carrot Sticks with Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip
Low-fat or fat-free Milk
English Muffin Mini Pizzas
Romaine Salad with Green Goddess Yogurt Dressing
100% Fruit Juice
BBQ Chicken Sandwich
Greek Yogurt Coleslaw
Decaffeinated Unsweetened Iced Tea
Tuna Salad with Whole Grain Crackers
Bell Pepper Strips with Hummus
Cup of Grapes
Diluted Sports Drink (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.)
Corn and Black Bean Wrap
Salsa or Pico de Gallo with Baked Tortilla Chips
Fat-Free Flavored Milk
Turkey Burger on Whole Grain Bun
Baked Sweet Potatoes Fries or Wedges
Cinnamon Apple Slices
All of these fun and healthy lunch ideas are perfect for busy parents as well! Cook and assemble everything ahead of time, make enough for your entire family, and pack lunch for yourself as well! Here are some other easy grab and go options for busy parents. Enjoy!
- Premade Salads – just watch the higher calorie dressings and other toppings, like croutons, dried fruit, and tons of cheese
- Pre-packaged Low-Sodium Soups – pair with whole grain crackers
- Turkey or Ham Sandwich – keep whole grain bread and deli meats at work for easy access during busy days
- Low-sodium frozen meals, like Amy’s Light & Lean or Lean Cuisine
- Tuna, Salmon, or Chicken in a pouch with whole grain crackers and veggies
- Open faced burrito from Chipotle or Qdoba when you are on the road
- Fruit and Yogurt Parfait with Granola and Chia Seeds
- Spinach, Strawberry, and Avocado Smoothie
1. Meeusen, R. (2014). Exercise, nutrition and the brain. Sports Medicine,44(1), 47-56.