We all know that the middle meal of the day is important. In my mother’s family it was the most important meal of the day, called dinner not lunch, a common practice among midwestern farmers. Supper was the evening meal. We all want to make sure that our children have a healthy lunch when they’re away from home so here are some ideas to make this easier to figure out.
Make a list over the weekend of five school lunch ideas for the upcoming week so you won’t have to think about it on school day mornings. Use some of the suggestions below.
Create or buy a reusable lunch container, lunch kit, or bento box set and a good, small size thermos. It will cost you a bit, at first, but you will save money over time. WasteFree Lunches estimates that one lunch using throwaway packaging, utensils, napkins and drink containers costs $1.37 more than the same meal in reusable containers. You can also reuse some of the containers you get at the grocery store. For example, the small glass container that anchovies come in makes a great soy sauce container for older children. And, of course, you can send utensils and a cloth napkin from home.
Consider the types of foods to include in the lunch as well as the portions. According to TeensHealth.org,
“Portion sizes began to increase in the 1980s and have been ballooning ever since. Take bagels, for example: 20 years ago, the average bagel had a 3-inch diameter and 140 calories. Today, bagels often have a 6-inch diameter and 350 calories. One bagel that size actually contains half a person’s recommended number of grain servings for an entire day!”
Concentrate on fruits and vegetables. Remember that we have a lot in common with gorillas whose diets are mostly fruits and vegetables. Half of our children’s lunches should be fruits and vegetables. The other half should be nearly equally divided between grains and protein.
We need less protein than we think. One to three-year-olds need about 16 grams of protein a day; that’s about a half an ounce. A four to six-year-old needs about 24 grams of protein a day, a little under an ounce. A seven to ten-year-old needs 28 grams, or just about an ounce. Eleven to 14-year-olds take a huge leap in protein needs, jumping to 62 grams a day or 2.2 ounces. For the rest of our lives, we need between 64 and 70 grams of protein a day, 2.2 and 2.4 ounces. Three ounces is about the size of a deck of cards or a bar of soap.
Dairy sources of protein include milk, yogurt and cheeses. Animal sources of protein include eggs, red meat, poultry, pork, fish and shellfish.
Plant sources of protein are plentiful. An ounce of seeds or nuts, for example, contains about three to six grams of protein. Plant sources of protein include almonds, peanuts and other nuts and nut butters. Pumpkin, sunflower and other seeds as well as Tahini, sesame butter, are all good sources. Cooked beans, peas and lentils are also excellent sources of plant protein. One cup contains 14 grams of protein. Soybeans are especially high in protein. Tofu and Falafel are also good plant protein sources.
HEALTHY EATING PLATE
For ideas on how to balance your child’s lunch choices, check out the suggestions below from the Harvard School of Public Health on what constitutes a Healthy Eating Plate. Half of the plate is fruits and vegetables and the other half is grains and protein.
Here are some vegetable suggestions for the lunchbox:
- Sliced carrots (whole carrots, not “baby” carrots)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Sliced cucumbers
- Salad (dressing in separate container)
- Cole slaw (dressing in separate container)
- Celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter or creamed cheese
- Corn on the cob
- Vegetable soup
- Cold steamed veggies with dressing
- Raw veggies with humus or sour cream dip
- Cucumber pickles
- Pickled beets
- Black olives
Here are some grain choices:
- Granola bar
- Pasta Salad
- Croutons in the salad
- Cheese and crackers
- Chips and salsa
- Rice or quinoa
- Rice or quinoa salad
Assembling a balanced lunch now is easy:
- 1. Select two vegetable choices.
- 2. Select two grain choices.
- 3. Include a piece or two of fruit, or some berries.
- 4. Choose one to two tablespoons of protein, depending on the age of your child.
- 5. Some of these selections could be in a soup or stew in the thermos.
- 6. Include fresh water in a reusable container.
If you want to get fancy, try an Obento Lunch Box
If you want to know what’s fresh, check out What’s In Season?
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Homeand A Quiet Place.Ihave conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.