Even the best-intentioned parents can get burned out on this never-ending school-year task. And with all of the allergies in the classrooms, you might have a challenge getting your child a yummy snack they will eat, not to mention something appropriately balanced to meet their nutritional needs, healthy, and also, safe for their peers. Fortunately, this article should help. We know a healthy diet is critical to optimal learning and getting things done, yet it also helps with other executive functions like organization and decision making.
First tip, only offer foods that you really want your kids to be eating. If you don’t want them eating something, don’t buy it and keep it in the house. While in our house we are omnivores, I do not stock much in the way of “snacky” foods: crackers, chips, puffed things, pretzels – these foods, when they are in our home – disappear quickly. Kids, like many adults, love the quick hit of a simple carb (yet it is important to remember, they turn to sugar in the body).
(Resource: Here is a fun class coming up with Laura McCall at The Birth Center – Foodies For Life!)
I counsel all my patients to have a little bit of protein every time they eat in order to increase satisfaction and maintain optimal blood sugar. This extends to snacks for our kids. Good choices for classroom friendly proteins include: seed butters, cheeses, greek yogurt, leftover meat, nitrate-free deli meats, summer sausage, or jerky.
If I could, I would always stick to fresh foods, but I know that convenient, non-perishables sometimes win. When I buy pre-packed non-perishable snacks, I let my kids know they are for away-from-home snacks, and not to eat them at home. Instead we stick to fresh foods, even when we go out as a family on excursions. Creative and portable home-packaging, like reusable wax cloth or metal containers, will work for most fresh items. I like to have fruits and veggies readily available, and accompanying complementary proteins (see above). My no-brainer school snack looks like this: fruit + veggie + protein (see photo). A common question that I get is about snack bars. They are almost universally shockingly loaded with carbs and have relatively little protein.
Lunches can be tricky too, so just keep it simple. Honestly, dinner leftovers make the best school lunches. Yet, my kids don’t like leftovers for lunch, which is fine because I love them ;-). Sometimes my kids have packed sammies with lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, shredded carrots, cheese or meat – mmmm! Other times, I take the ingredients of a sandwich and put them in separately, like little appetizers, adding up to a complete meal. As long as it is well-balanced and has veggies and protein, I let them eat what they want, and it is usually pretty simple. A great benefit to packing lunches for kids is that when they get home, they can finish what they didn’t eat at lunch, before grabbing a new snack from the fridge. This will also reduce food waste.
A word on school hot lunches: It is a good idea to offer your child some control and choice. Years ago, I started letting my kids look at the school lunch calendar and pick out what day they wanted to eat a school lunch. Last October, my mom passed away and some of my “what should the kids eat at school tomorrow” bandwidth just fell by the wayside. As a result, my kids ate hot lunches for almost the entire year last year. I am grateful that we have such a good lunch program where I live. I often inquired what they had for lunch, and at least at the elementary level, my son was sent back on more than one occasion to get another “food color” or to choose a protein…to my absolute delight! These are things that our kids have learned at home, and it is wonderful to see them reinforced at school. Still, taking the time to pack food for your child (or letting them pack it with your guidance or within your guidelines), feels right and offers all the benefits discussed above, not the least being optimal nutrition. However, if you need to use the school lunch program, here in Boulder Valley anyway, we have it pretty good. Coach your kids at home to make good choices on their own. And then relax about it.