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lunchboxThe first last few weeks of summer and the start of school represent more than just the next notch in your child’s academic journey. Yes, there are new things to learn, skills to master and goals to achieve but it’s also important to remember your child’s mind is not the only thing getting bigger…their bodies are growing too! No one wants their child to merely survive, you want them to thrive, and that starts with adequate nutrition. You may be able to prepare them for almost everything: freshly sharpened pencils, an endless supply of neon highlighters, Lightening McQueen folders, Star Wars notebooks, Cinderella backpacks and anything else you can buy in the back to school section at Staples, but these are merely objects, not the tools they need to succeed. What's more important is that they are prepared to stay energized and focused throughout the day.

By now, we are all aware that the processed foods traditionally filling lunch boxes are laden with preservatives, trans-fats, high-sodium and high-fructose corn syrup, but kids still want these familiar tasting foods and we want the simplicity and ease of simply tossing packaged items into a lunch box. We now know that these foods will only slow down your child, physically and mentally, as well as contribute to the rising childhood obesity epidemic unfortunately sweeping the nation. At the end of the day, kids want what other kids are having, but whether its food allergies or adequate nutrition on your mind, you know you can’t send your kid off to school with those foods in their packed lunches. There are so many factors to keep in mind when you’re packing your child’s lunch - it needs to be fun and engaging, delicious, and healthful.  There are a few things we need to tackle, so let’s start with food allergies.

Food Allergies

The most common food allergies include peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat and tree nuts. The peanut allergy has become so severe that some schools have started banning peanuts all together. It may take an excel sheet with pivot tables and pie charts to keep track of which friend can’t eat what at the lunch table or the classroom food policies, so why not be proactive and pack a school lunch that won’t land you in allergy detention?

Passing on Peanuts

Does your child love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Try a peanut-free alternative like SunButter, which is made from sunflower seeds. Healthy homemade trail mix is a great option and easy to throw together. Try pumpkin and sunflower seeds mixed with dried fruit and flaked coconut instead of store bought trail mixes, which not only have peanuts, but tons of sugary chocolate. Here are some of my favorite peanut free packaged foods:

Peanuts may be the most dangerous and common food allergy, but one of the trickier food sensitivities is eggs, especially since mayonnaise is a popular condiment. Try switching to hummus or honey mustard in your turkey cucumber wraps (whole wheat of course) or sandwiches.

Energy Epiphany

Aside from allergies, our biggest concern is providing healthful lunches and snacks that will give your kids the energy they need to make it through the day. Studies show that if you equip your children with healthy food to eat at school, they will be better prepared to study and learn. And it’s not all serious - lunch making can be a fun activity as well as a great way for kids to feel independent. Before we get into some specifics, some general suggestions to healthfully spice up your kids lunch box are swapping refined, simple carbohydrates for whole grains and trying flavored waters without added sugars in place of sodas and sugary juices. Here are some of my favorite options for the lunchbox:

  • Vermont Village Organic Unsweetened Apple Sauce Pouches instead of traditional apple sauce with tons of added sugar and preservatives
  • Pearls Olives to Go! instead of fruit cups packed in sugar syrup and as a more interesting option than carrot and celery sticks
  • Organic Living Superfoods Dried Fruit instead of fruit snacks and leathers packed with high fructose corn syrup and heaps of added sugar
  • Bitsy’s Brainfood Smart Crackers instead of traditional cheesy crackers made with partially hydrogenated oils
  • PopCorners, Biena Chickpea Snacks or Enlightened Crisps instead of greasy potato chips
  • Coco Libre Coconut Water instead of sugary sports drinks
  • Mini Babybel Light Cheese instead of string cheese that contains food coloring and preservatives

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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