Class is officially in session and so are your kids’ appetites!
Class is officially in session and that means it’s time to pack school lunches again. While it’s great to have the kids back on a set schedule, school time requires a different kind of planning – what to make for mealtimes!
Luckily, you don’t have to break the bank to serve delicious and nutritious lunchbox meals to the kiddos… all it takes is some simple swaps. And it’s easy to do if you keep these USDA-recommended pillars in mind when building your child’s lunch (or any meal!):
Focus on whole grains
The school day can be long and the kids not only need a fulfilling lunch, but healthy snacks throughout the day to stay energized. Try swapping in whole grain products – like Clover Valley Chewy Bars or Honey Maid Graham Crackers – for cookies or other sweet treats. Or, prepare these easy No-Bake Cereal Bars – great for a snack any time of day! For a whole grain treat that satisfies your child’s salty snack attack, turn to Good & Smart Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn. And, as a simple way to incorporate more whole grains into your child’s diet, try Clover Valley Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread in place of standard white bread. Adding whole grains provides more fiber to your child’s diet which will help their digestion and keep them feeling fuller, longer.
And, for when we all need that bite of dessert, prepare these scrumptious Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies, packed with whole grain oats.
Limit products containing added sugar
Vending machine snacks don’t often provide the healthiest options, with snacks often filled with a ton of added sugar. So, what exactly qualifies as added sugar? This is any sugar added to a product as a sweetener rather than the naturally occurring sugar in that food; think honey, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar and so on. Sugar from sources like milk or fruits is ok since these foods also provide us with vitamins, minerals and fiber instead of just empty calories.
Preparing or packing a healthier snack at home can help prevent a mid-day sugar craving at school. When packing your child’s lunch, try Mott’s Unsweetened Applesauce, Dole Mixed Fruit Cups in 100% Juice or any of Dollar General’s selection of 100% fruit juices such as these lunchbox-friendly Clover Valley Apple Juice bottles to add fruit to your child’s diet. And for those with a “sweet tooth,” this recipe for Blueberry Crumble Bars makes for a yummy sweet treat without the added sugar.
Choose lean proteins
Protein is essential for your growing child – whether they’re running around at recess or using their energy to solve a challenging math problem! While it’s easy to turn to less balanced options, it is important to offer meats and plant-based proteins that are not as high in saturated fat. Enter: this recipe for Loaded Egg Muffins – flavorful and high in protein without going too heavy on calories from saturated fat. Another egg-based recipe that is good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner is this simple Rise and Shine Breakfast Wrap.
For a lunchtime protein, turn to these Clover Valley Ranch Tuna Pouches or Bumble Bee Chicken Salad with Crackers Kits for lean protein options your child will love.
Add fruits and veggies
It’s not always easy introducing more fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet (or, let’s face it, our own!), especially when they’re in class for most of the day. Nonetheless, these food groups are essential for incorporating fiber, vitamins and minerals into your family’s meals. This Mixed Berry Smoothie and Strawberry Banana Smoothie taste delish and are kid-friendly vehicles for chowing down on nutritious fruits before they head off to school. Some other great fruit options for lunch boxes include these crispy Good & Smart Apple Crisps or Clover Valley California Raisins.
How to work veggies into your child’s meal? This is not always a simple solution, but you may start with this Skinny Pasta Toss or this Mac and Cheese recipe which serve kid-friendly pasta mixed with veggie ingredients they will never even know were added. Or try preparing Pepperoni and Veggie Pizza Chicken for a lean protein and veggie combo the kids will love!
Turn to fat-free and low-fat dairy
Last but not least, whether for breakfast or an after-school snack, try swapping out full-fat dairy products for low-fat or fat-free options. This will help reduce the amount of saturated fat your child is consuming while still ensuring they are meeting their needs for Calcium and other vital minerals. Low-fat (or skim) milk is a great place to start, or your child may prefer a plant-based milk such as almond milk (but, remember to go for the unsweetened variety). Clover Valley String Cheese, made with part-skim mozzarella, is always a fun and simple addition to the lunchbox. And, for dessert, offer a frozen fruit-based popsicle or simply frozen berries, such as this Clover Valley Berry Medley, instead of ice cream.
It often takes baby steps when adding more healthful foods into your child’s diet, but these small changes can make a world of difference in both how your child feels and behaves!