In Part 1 of this series on school lunch, I talked about the hidden dangers of pre-packaged lunches.
So as a parent, what can you do to escape the Lunchables? The obvious answer is to pack your kid's lunch. But thankfully, you aren't limited to carrot sticks and sliced bread. And best of all, supplying your child with healthy options for lunch is not hard or time-consuming.
Here are 3 simple steps to creating a healthy lunch box for your kids:
Step 1: Don't Fear Fat
Fat is essential for a child's brain development and neuronal health, and is also crucial for cell membrane formation, hormone development, appetite satiation and many other critical functions for a growing body (it's one of the reasons why fat is a primary component of breastmilk). Choose any of the healthy fat sources below as the first ingredient in your child's lunch box:
• Sliced avocados or guacamole
• Olives or olive tapenade
• Hummus (include lots of extra virgin olive oil)
• Nuts, seeds or nut butter (*Note: Many schools have restrictions on certain nuts in lunch boxes for fear of allergic reactions)
• Cold water fish, such as sliced wild salmon or sardines (my kids like these on rice crackers)
• Free range chicken (with skin is fine) or a fatty source of organic red meat.
• Butter, yogurt, ghee or coconut oil (any of these can be used generously to cook vegetables or as part of a spread in a wrap or a sandwich)
• Cheese sticks, cheese wedges, cheese circles or grated cheese as a condiment (just be careful, as some children are sensitive to dairy)
Step 2: Add a Growing Food
Amino acids are found in proteins and are used as building blocks for muscle repair and recovery, as well as support for a growing body. It doesn't matter whether you're vegetarian, vegan, or omnivorous -- your child needs a source of amino acids in their lunch. Here are great amino acid options to get you started:
• Beans or lentils (you can make hummus out of soaked chickpeas or add mashed pinto or black beans to a wrap)
• Soaked and sprouted grain source, like Ezekiel 4:9 wraps, breads or buns (you may want to use Einkorn or Kamut sources of wheat if you want to avoid gluten)
• Cooked quinoa, amaranth, millet or other grain alternatives to rice and pasta with a high amino acid content
• Meat (choose any of the sources listed in Step #1 and don't worry about how lean the meat is since your child's brain needs healthy fat!)
If you want to completely avoid grains, just use kale, bok choy, butter lettuce or Swiss chard as a wrap and alternative to traditional bread sources.
Step 3: Make It Colorful
By adding color from fruits and vegetables, you're not only going to satisfy much of your child's vitamin, mineral and nutrient needs, you're also going to keep the lunch looking fun and ensure that your child has a little carbohydrate to go along with that fat and protein. Here is a list of healthy, tasty, colorful foods you can add to your child's lunch box:
• Baked or boiled sweet potatoes or yams (yellows and oranges)
• Sugar snap peas and kale chips (greens)
• Steamed green beans or asparagus (dark greens)
• Carrot sticks (great for oranges -- try them boiled, buttered, and salted, or crispy and fresh)
• Corn (yellows)
• Sliced green or red apples and green or red grapes (put a little lemon juice on the apples to keep them from turning brown)
• Plums (purples)
The list of colors goes on and on. You can include pear, nectarine, kiwi, melon, berries, pineapple and tons of other healthy fruits. These foods should ideally take precedence over packaged and processed options.
And that's it!
With these 3 easy steps you can give your child what he needs for a growing brain, a developing body and surging energy levels.
Try any of these 5 easy lunch box ideas:
• Wrap with sliced avocado, olives and hummus, with red grapes on the side.
• Quinoa, sliced chicken, pumpkin seeds and feta cheese dressed with extra virgin olive oil with sugar snap peas on the side.
• Almond butter sandwich with fresh berries and carrot sticks on the side.
• Chunks of cooked wild salmon with boiled or mashed sweet potatoes and fresh pineapple on the side.
• Thinly-sliced steak and olive tapenade wrapped in butter lettuce with nectarine slices on the side.
And there you have it -- fat, protein and color. Now go make your child a guilt-free lunch.
Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His latest book is "Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body: A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape."