Although buying a quick lunch at the corner store or the fast-food joint by your office might be a tempting option, packing a healthy lunch for yourself and your children is likely better in the long run. Packing your lunch not only will probably save you money, but you can help your family make healthier choices. When you pack a lunch for your kids, you have control over what they’re eating. Here are four ways you can build healthy lunches for you and your family.
1. Choose your snacks wisely. “Healthy” and “snacks” aren’t incompatible words. Snacks can do wonderful things for your overall health, provided the treats themselves are nutritious and appropriately sized.
Skipping snacks and just eating three large meals a day works fine for some people; however, for others, leaving long gaps between eating can mean hunger pains and fatigue throughout the day, and may eventually lead to binging. If you fall into this group, healthy snacks are the answer for you. Pack yourself a little something between meals and plan after-school snacks for the kids ahead of time to give everyone energy until dinnertime. The trick is to make sure your snack isn’t full of empty calories.
Junk food like chips might satisfy a craving, but you’re not doing anything good for your body by eating them. Instead, pack healthy treats like fruits and veggies. Tools like an apple wedger can slice snacks into bite-size pieces, so they’re easier to snack on and take on-the-go.
2. Consider healthy alternatives. Eating a healthy lunch can be hard at times, especially when you have a hectic schedule and packing leftover pasta or fast sandwiches seems like an easier solution. But even the smallest substitutions for healthier options can make a huge difference. It’s helpful to plan out your lunch the night before so you’re not stressed in the morning.
Instead of packing regular pasta, consider making veggie noodles with a spiralizer. They’ll give you an extra boost of flavor and nutrients. Other little changes work, too. Swap out white bread for whole-wheat, or prepacked cereal bars for homemade energy bites. You’ll end up with a healthier lunch and you’ll feel better throughout the day.
3. Focus on the fun for your kids. Any parent knows that kids love to play and that extends to lunches as much as anything else. Think about the foods your kids are most drawn to—odds are good there’s something quirky or off-beat about it that makes it feel like a departure from the norm. If you keep this in mind when packing your children’s lunches, they’re sure to love what they find inside.
One way to do this is to make your kids crustless sandwiches. You can fill them with your kids’ favorite ingredients. Another option is to make them finger-friendly foods. Scoop out melon balls for their lunch—the melon will give them plenty of vitamins and nutrients.
4. Store safely. It’s important to make sure you’re storing your foods properly, especially if something needs to stay cool. Just a half an hour in the car or on the bus is enough to let icky bacteria get to work in your mayonnaise, so make sure you have an insulated lunch box.
If your drive is longer than 30 minutes, or if you don’t have access to a refrigerator, make sure you’re keeping everything cool. You can grab an ice pack or use a cooling tray to keep your foods well-organized and at a safe temperature for hours.
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This post has been updated since its original publication in March 2016.