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Since lunch might be the pre game meal before and afternoon training or a game you’ll want to pack healthy lunch boxes. Generally you’ll want to ensure that what you pack is balanced, nutrient dense and has the carbs you need to build your energy stores.
Why do you need to pack a healthy lunch? What foods should you pack?
What are some options when you get bored with the same food every day?
Why you should pack healthy lunch boxes
With school’s more rigid structure, grabbing a snack during school may not be as easy as reaching into the fridge or pantry at home. So you’ll want to ensure that you’re packing healthy lunch boxes full of high fiber, nutrient dense foods, moderate protein and low fat.
This will ensure that you’ve got well-balanced sources of energy and nutrients to keep your brain focused and body fueled throughout the whole school day. Additionally, as an athlete, you need to make sure you’re getting enough calories for the day, and packing healthy lunch boxes helps keep you on track.
Healthy lunch boxes
A healthy lunch box includes a good source of carbohydrates from whole grains, a quality protein, and a fruit and/or vegetable and dairy serving. Many children are not meeting the recommended intake for some key nutrients including vitamin D, calcium, dietary fiber and potassium as defined by the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
They are also not eating enough whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy foods (1).
In fact, a study looked at the nutrient differences between lunches from home and the National School Lunch Program, and found that lunches packed at home have fewer fruits and vegetables, less fiber, but more total calories (2).
Plan ahead for packing healthy lunch boxes
- Pick pantry staples. Help pick out your favorite foods to pack in your healthy lunch boxes. This way you’re more likely to pack foods you’ll actually eat. Stocking up the pantry makes it easier for packing lunches in the morning or the nigh before (3).
- Pack ahead. Pack as much of the lunch as you can the night before. This helps alleviate the morning stress of figuring out what to put in lunches while you’re also making breakfast, packing your gear bag and getting out the door to school.
- Make extras. Make enough food for dinner that you’ll have leftovers to pack in lunch boxes. A healthy lunch box meal doesn’t have to be a sandwich. Leftover pasta salad or a chicken breast with rice also fit the bill.
How to pack healthy lunch boxes
- Easy to open containers. Make sure the containers you send to school are easy to open. Otherwise younger kids may have to wait to eat until an adult can help them open it. There are fun container options like bento boxes that make the food presentation more pleasing and enjoyable.
- Keep foods cold. You can also buy lunch boxes with built in ice to keep the foods safe and cold. And this expand your options for what you can include when packing lunch boxes.
- Serve bite-size portions. Cut up foods in pieces and include dipping options like hummus, low fat yogurt and ranch dressing.
- Use fun shapes. Make sandwiches or foods in different shapes using cookie cutters. Your kids will be the talk of the table and won’t want to give up their food.
Key nutrients for healthy lunch boxes
Include a mix of foods from each food group to ensure that you have a well balanced lunch:
Carbohydrates ( whole grain)
- Pita bread
- Pasta salad
- Pitas crackers
- Brown rice
- Chicken breast or low fat cuts of meat
- Nitrate free deli meats
- Hard boiled eggs
- Hummus and other bean based dips
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Nuts and seeds
- Peanut butter or nut butters
- Cheese or string cheese
Color – Fruits and vegetables
- Apple slices
- Applesauce or GoGo Squeez packs
- Raw vegetables-carrots, celery, pepper strips, cherry tomatoes
- Roasted vegetables – broccoli, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes
And a couple extras to pack
Consider packing a water bottle so that you can stay hydrated throughout the day. Additionally, if you have any after school sports or activities you might want to consider packing a few healthy snacks to help tide them over until dinner.
Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 20 years in public health and nutrition experience. As a performance nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.