Healthy Eating for Elementary School
By Amy Stephens, MS, RD, CDE
Amy Stephens is a registered dietitian who has been practicing nutrition for 13 years. She has offices in the West Village and Hastings-on-Hudson specializing in healthy eating, weight management, and diabetes. She has four children, three of which are in Hillside Elementary.
What to feed your kids for lunch
For many of us, packing lunches every day is a dispiriting chore. We may be dealing with picky eaters, siblings with different food preferences or kids tired of the same thing every day. Meanwhile, we want to make sure our kids eat adequate nutrients to optimize their performances in school, stay healthy and provide them with enough energy for their long days at school. Do remember to be enthusiastic about introducing new foods to you kids.
I’ve compiled some tips and lunch ideas to make packing lunches easier.
1. Discuss menu ideas and lunch goals with your kids in the beginning of the week. Make sure kids know what healthy foods are and why we need them.
2. Bring kids to the grocery store to pick out their own foods. Try ordering on Fresh Direct with your child and have them pick out the foods they like.
3. Pack a variety of foods from different food groups. Vegetable, starch (bread, rice, pasta, cereal) and protein (chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds).
4. Kids need to be exposed many times before they try it. Also, kids need to taste things many times before they will like it.
5. Use BPA-free lunch containers with fun colors. Bento boxes are great to keep foods in separate sections to maintain food textures. Lunch Bots (available on Amazon.com) are individual stainless steel containers that are virtually indestructible.
6. Try to make the same foods for all kids in the house; catering to siblings with non-mutual food preferences is challenging. Try to make sandwiches with different ingredients or find fruits and vegetables all your kids like.
7. Keep track of which foods your child likes so you can make them again.
8. Keep it simple. Use leftovers or colder foods for lunch.
9. Praise and recognize kids when they try new foods.
10. Help kids make better snack choices at home. Keep a healthy snack cupboard at home. Fill it with healthy food options and ready-to-eat healthy foods (cut-up vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, and ready-made salads).
11. There are hundreds of websites dedicated to recipes of all sorts, as well as some focused just on kids’ lunches. A couple of my favorites are epicurious.com and www.allrecipes.com : you can type in whatever ingredients you have on hand, and the website returns recipes containing them.
Sample lunch ideas
Note: these are just a sample; there are an unlimited number of healthy options
- Turkey sandwich on whole wheat with 1 teaspoon mayo or mustard. Can add lettuce or
- Low-fat tuna or chicken salad made with low-fat mayo, celery and tomato/lettuce.
- Hummus sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato.
- Peanut butter or almond butter and jelly on pita.
- Mini whole wheat bagel with cream cheese, lettuce, and tomato
- Granola, fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt
- Leftover pasta salad made with parmesan cheese and broccoli.
- Turkey burger slider on whole wheat bun with ketchup to dip.
- Leftover rotisserie chicken with steamed string beans and mashed potatoes.
- Hard-boiled egg with mini whole wheat bagel and cream cheese.
- ½ Avocado and whole wheat pita.
- Pita pizza on whole wheat
- Tortilla wraps with shredded cheese, chopped chicken, and cut vegetables
- 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt, whole-wheat crackers, and fruit
- Quinoa salad with vegetables, beans and cheese.
- Bean-based soup or stew in a thermos, whole-grain roll with butter or margarine, and fruit
- Soups – best are chicken broth or tomato based vegetable soups.
**Try different kinds of healthy breads until you find one your kids love. There are many options: thin whole wheat (Arnold’s brand), mini whole wheat pita (Sabra or Whole Foods brand), Thomas Light English muffins, Matthew’s whole wheat, Vermont’s best whole wheat or soft wheat, Whole wheat mini bagels (Thomas’ or Whole Foods), and whole wheat tortillas.
Carrots, cucumbers or celery and Ranch dressing (Cindy’s kitchen makes a kid-friendly one). Single serving Sabra hummus containers are an option for very busy parents, available at Costco – or buy a large one – or make hummus yourself – and spoon into a small Lunch Bot or Tupperware container.
- Cut-up fruit and nuts.
- Small banana and low-fat yogurt
- Dry cereal (Crispex, Granola, Wheat Chex) and cut up apple
- Granola bars (Cliff Jr. Z bar)
- Granola with low-fat yogurt
- Cheese and whole wheat crackers
- Package of seaweed – Annie Chuns Brand (Whole Foods) or Trader Joe’s Brand
- Applesauce (either packaged or homemade) and baby carrots
- Edamame, lightly salted
***As always, please check labels carefully if your child has a food allergy.
- 6 oz Refillable water containers (Kids Konserve or Klean Kanteen – available on Amazon.com)
- Low-fat milk at school or in thermos
- Unflavored soy or almond milk in thermos
Additional Resources for meal planning
- America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook 3rd Edition: Cookware Rating Edition. All editions are great. http://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/
- Dinner A Love Story, By Jenny Rosenstrach. Great resource with more in depth food ideas and great recipes. Jenny’s blog is: www.dinneralovestory.com
- Cooking Light Magazine. Quick recipe section in the back is really helpful.
- Epicurious food – www.epicurious.com
Can type in ingredient and get recipes (ie. Black beans, kale, spinach)