What do I look for when I am packing each lunch? Well, there are a lot of things. But here are the main things that I am trying to accomplish or am conscious of when packing my kids lunchbox.
Fresh produce in important. I try to add in some sort of fresh fruit or veggie. Especially in the winter, when we need more Vitamin C. Fresh fruits and vegetables are important sources of Vitamin C, which boosts our immune system. I also try to give a variety of different types from day to day, and main lunch/snack. It gets pretty boring having the same options, in my opinion. I am not good with routine (as anyone who knows me well, will tell you), I do best with variety and change. I have been this way with my kids since day 1, they never knew which way I was going to come from. I think this helped make them adventurous to a certain degree. They are will to try new fruits and veggies, and get excited when they see something different.
Fresh produce, vs cooked is also important for enzyme and fiber content in a meal. Enzymes are destroyed in the cooking process, and fiber can be broken down. I do not encourage all raw produce diets, as you are missing out on numerous important minerals and other nutrients. Balance, as always is key. Balancing the amount of cooked vegetables with raw is important in making sure you are filling you kids with a variety of nutrients.
Protein and Fat
I am beating a dead horse with fats, aren't I? Well, it is THAT important for kids. They need lots of protein, for their growing bodies, and fats for energy and development. Some would argue that for children this is one of the MOST important components of a healthy diet.
I also like to vary the sources of protein for my kiddos. Like you read in the previous posts, not all protien is the same. Different sources (beans, grains, meats...) offer different amino acid percentages. Each of these amino acids is needed for different processes in the body.
We eat meat and animal products, and this is often what is found in their lunches, but not always. Sometimes it's nuts, like peanut butter, trail mix, and almond milk.
Sometimes it's beans, like black bean soup.
Sometimes is whole grains, like my wild rice salad.
There is always an element of fat in their diets as well. This is also varied, and can come from meats, oils, nuts, dairy, and eggs.
Color is so important to how our children emotionally view their meals, as I wrote in a previous post. Just look at a colorful meal yourself, how does it make you feel?
When I am packing lunches, I do this. I step back and look at what I put together...does it make me feel good? If the answer is yes, then it wins. If a meal looks good, our kids are more likely to eat it and enjoy it.
I absolutely dislike wasting food. It makes me sad and kind of angry when I have to throw out food. Therefore, when packing lunches I do three things.
As children, especially at the age of my children, they are fighting for a bit of control and independence in their lives. I try to include them in the packing of their lunch, but letting them choose something to add into either their main lunch or their snack bag. Sometimes I have to say no to something they have asked (Like M1 wanted to take an entire chocolate bar). But, I don't say no completely. We may just take a small square off the chocolate bar.
I also like to add in special treats from time to time. Now, special treats don't have to be sweet treats like candy, cookies, cupcakes, etc...for example today's special treat is Pork Skins. All it means is something that gets my kids really excited and is something they do not get on a normal or regular basis. It becomes like a little food present. I think this for us, personally, keeps my kids engaged and excited about their own lunches, instead of looking at other kids lunches and thinking it looks cooler. By adding in random special treats, their lunch becomes healthy and cool.
The ingredient quality is what makes the difference in many foods, especially packages foods and drinks. When I am buying items that I know are for my kids lunchboxes, I read the labels with much more precision than if it was just for me. I make sure the quality of the ingredients is the best it can be. For example, ranch dressing. When you compare and read labels, it is quite obvious that Hidden Valley (though as tasty and memorialized as it may be to us) is full of nasty ingredients. When you can, make your own, but when you cannot read all the labels and pick the one with the least amount of unreadable ingredients, and the least amount of added nonsense. (I think I will do the next post on additive to avoid and why).
Even the candy we buy is fruit juice based. Not 100%, but it's better quality than jolly ranchers.