As we enjoy the last weeks of summer (or “freedom,” as kids may call them), it’s time to prepare for the new school year. For organic families, the emphasis is on healthful lunches.
Sound challenging? Not if you follow these four kid-pleasing tips.
1. Protein in Perspective
Years ago, our moms sent us to school with protein-heavy meat sandwiches and coins to buy whole milk. These days, it’s easy to lighten up with your kids’ favorite organic vegetables, low-fat cheese or tofu—each of which proves wholesome with whole-grain bread. Beans are another terrific source of protein and fiber, with negligible saturated fat.
“Make a great-tasting bean dip, and cut up some whole-wheat pita triangles for a healthy lunch to go,” advises pediatrician Mary Ellen Renna, MD, author of Growing Up Healthy the Next Generation Way: Add Years to Your Child’s Life & Life to Your Child’s Years.
“Nuts and seeds are portable, healthy snacks that are perfect for lunch boxes,” she adds. “They are loaded with protein and packed with energy. Ounce for ounce, pumpkin seeds have almost as much protein as beef or chicken, with a lot more of the good fats—and even have some of the amazingly heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.”
2. Liquid Logic
“What your child drinks with lunch each day is just as important as what he or she eats,” Dr. Renna says. “Send your child with either water, low-fat milk or a fruit-juice box—but make sure that the juice box is made from only 100% juice and is fortified with calcium, as well. Many juices contain only minimal amounts of real fruit juice and instead are filled with a lot of sugar. Read the labels and look for a juice box that is 100% pure fruit juice, such as Apple & Eve’s 100% juice box line.” (It’s organic!)
As an added bonus, juice boxes can help keep your child’s lunch cold throughout the day. Simply freeze a juice box the night before school and use it as an ice pack, Dr. Renna suggests. By lunchtime, it will be perfectly defrosted and ready to drink.
3. Involvement and Input
Moms haven’t traditionally asked us what we wanted to eat for lunch. We’d open our lunch box and grab a soggy tuna sandwich and some cookies—the icky kind no one even wanted in the daily trade. Times have changed: When you take your children to your local natural and organic food store, allow them to help you shop for school lunch staples and snacks.
“Involve your children in picking out the foods and packing the lunch box,” says Elena Serrano, an assistant professor of human nutrition, foods and exercise at Virginia Tech. “You’ll find out what they like and, if they feel a part of the process, they’re more prone to eat it.”
Make sure your children have a variety of foods in their diet, including whole grains and low-fat dairy products, she adds. You can visit MyPyramid.gov to learn more about healthful organic choices in each food group.
4. No Fuss, No Muss
It may seem obvious, but it helps to prepare organic lunches that are easy to eat, Serrano says. Make sure food is cut at the appropriate size for young children.
“Kids don’t have a lot of time to eat, and they don’t want to spend that time getting their foods ready,” confirms Carmen Byker, a Virginia Tech senior majoring in human nutrition, foods and exercise. “Cut, peel and slice fruits and vegetables in advance, or buy them ready to eat, like baby carrots, sliced apples, raisins and grapes.”
Byker encourages shopping for fruits and vegetables at your local farmer’s market. Not only will you find the freshest organic produce, but you’ll also support regional growers. These fruits and veggies also taste better, which encourages your kids to eat more servings each day, she says.
Be sure to check our blog in the coming weeks for nutritious, organic back-to-school recipes.