Thru-GenIt’s the start of a new school year, and parents are faced with the same challenge: how to prepare healthy, easy, and nutritious school lunches every day.

Healthy school lunches do not need to be time consuming, or expensive. The key to creating nutritious lunch options is staying well stocked and thinking ahead. Maintaining a well-balanced meal is about sticking to a simple formula of proteins, carbs, fruits, and veggies.

Prepare ahead of time. There is nothing harder than trying to scour the pantry after bedtime or early in the morning to throw together a nutritious meal. By shopping and thinking of options before the week begins, the last minute stress of what to put in the lunchbox is reduced. Leftovers also make great next day lunches. To eliminate extra cooking and effort, consider dinners that can easily be turned into great lunchbox items. Make extra chicken the night before and cut it into slices to go on a sandwich or with some veggies. Additionally, make extra veggies that can complement a protein choice or top a salad. By increasing dinner portions, lunch is easily made the next day.

When leftovers aren’t available, use nature’s ‘fast food’- fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds – that require little to no cutting and chopping. Kids love cherry tomatoes as a snack or a veggie side, and baby carrots, snap peas, bananas, and berries are all perfect for little or big kids. Non-allergenic nuts such as almonds and cashews, and seeds such as sunflower are good protein sources and don’t require refrigeration.

Buying ahead, making large portions of meals that can be turned into left overs, and thinking of natural snacks that require limited preparation, can help avoid pre-packaged, over processed snacks.

To help you stick to a simple formula of proteins, carbs, and veggies/fruits, take your child’s lunch box and divide it into 4 quadrants. Each quadrant will contain a different food group and equal portions of protein, carbs, fruit, and veggies are ideal.

A typical young child’s lunch may look something like this: 2 oz. diced chicken, 4 whole grain crackers, ½ sliced apple and 5 cherry tomatoes. Protein options for lunches are fresh deli sliced meat, cut up meat, poultry or fish from leftovers, hard boiled eggs, organic cheese, nuts, seeds, or beans. Carb options are sweet potato, whole grain crackers or bread, quinoa, or brown rice. Veggie and fruit options are endless and taste best when seasonal, fresh, and organic. Pair lunches with water, or flavor the water by adding a few slices of fresh cut up strawberries, oranges, or favorite fruit.

Consider all the benefits a fresh, healthy, and nutritious lunch has for your children. A lunch made of protein, whole grains, fruits, and veggies without packaged, processed snacks and sugar can increase mental and emotional development. Children who eat balanced meals are better behaved, are more emotionally stable, and consistently show higher test scores. Eating well daily is essential to having a positive, happy, and rewarding classroom experience.

Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is state licensed naturopathic doctor with a focus on fertility, family wellness, and pre-conception health. She can be reached at Optimal Health Center (760) 568.2598.

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