Back to school means it’s time to Reboot your Lunchbox! My morning routine in September goes something like this: 6 am alarm goes off, next let dogs out, then shower and get dressed, now the production line for our daily lunches and snacks begin!
I line up 4 lunch coolers with matching water bottles, and start filling them up with a variety of goodies, customized for each family member. I try to plan the night before and pre-pack items but in the rush of day-to-day life with two kids and working parents, the best-set intentions don’t always happen. But that doesn’t stop me from sending the most important people in my life out the door well prepared. And while it’s easy to get caught up making sure everyone else is set and forget all about my needs, I have been making it a priority to pack my own food too; kind of like “put your oxygen mask on first” theory.
Before we look at what could go in the “not your average” lunch bag, let’s review my top 5 reasons why packing a lunch for school, work or even running errands is a great idea:
- Healthy balance.
Packing your own lunches offers up healthy options for your kids, your partner or yourself. This makes it easier for everyone to stick to their (or your) wellness goals and eating schedule to support metabolism, brain-power, focus and energy level. Get the optimal amount of fruits, veggies, protein, total calories and whole grains by combining your favorites. Did you know the average bagged lunch is 500-700 calories while school cafeteria’s runs 850 cals and fast food…no surprise… is sky high around 1200-1800 calories on average.
- Easy and quick.
Sadly, fresh healthy food is not always prevalent in the school or company cafeteria. And forget about the vending machines! While many institutions have made improvements over the years, you may need to search around to find the fresh choices and when pressed for time it’s often just grab and go whatever is in sight. If you already have your healthy lunch packed, there’s no hunting needed!
- Time for activity.
Did you know the average elementary school student gets 35 minutes TOTAL to walk from classroom to cafeteria, obtain lunch, eat and go out to play for recess then get back into class ready to learn?!?! Skipping the cafeteria line and going straight to sit and eat lunch already in hand can really help ensure your kids are properly fueled for the classroom and playing field. For you this means saving time getting to a lunch destination, waiting in line then getting back to work. Instead use your lunch break to walk for 15-30 minutes then stop and eat your ready-to-go lunch during the remaining time.
Bottled water or water pre-poured into cups is not offered in many school cafeterias; juice and milk are the only options. Students have to seek out the water fountain unless they bring their own bottle. This impractical option can take up their already limited time, so pack your lunch and bring your own (glass, not plastic!) water bottle.
- Save money.
The average bagged lunch can be as little as $1 to $3, while a salad or sandwich from a local spot near work runs $6.50 to $8 and school lunches $3 (Fourty cents for those who qualify for reduced price meals). Bring your own lunch to work and save $70 per month! While the cost of packing your kids lunch and buying could end up around same financial cost, packing a lunch can result in HUGE health savings and benefits!
My older son (entering 4th grade) does choose to buy lunch occasionally, strategically picking the few items he likes (black bean quesadillas!). I feel this is a healthy balance of independence, choice and nutrition that can ultimately help kids be able to make their own decisions in a way that supports a lifestyle of wellness. My youngest son (in his last year of pre-school) has multiple food allergies so I pack his lunch and snacks daily. For him, it’s what he enjoys and is accustomed to. At 4 ½ years old Dillon is already a strong advocate for his health asking waitresses or relatives, “is this dairy-free” or “gluten-fairy” – I know too cute! He means gluten free!
Here are some easy, healthy lunch box gems. Check out our After School Snack section for more ideas.
- Rainbow Hummus + veggie sticks
- Fresh fruit
- Nuts (check with your child’s classroom rules about nuts in school).
- Wraps or sandwiches like PB&B (banana or berry :), hummus + tomato + cucumber, veggie burger, cucumber and cheese.
- Use an insulated container to keep foods warm like soup, stew, rice + beans, pasta with veggies , pasta salads, veggie chili, veggie enchiladas or burritos and casseroles.
- Homemade granola bars like No-Bake Banana Bread Granola bars, Homemade Healthy Granola Bars, The Best Granola Bar in the World, Almond Butter Berry Granola Bars, Granola Smart Hearts .
Time saving tips for getting lunches packed and parents and kids out the door on time:
- Pack up leftovers in to-go containers when cleaning up dinner so they’re ready to grab out of the fridge in the morning.
- Make other refrigerated lunch items at nightbefore doing the dishes since you’re already in the kitchen.
- Prep your fresh juice or smoothie ingredients and store together in a bowl in the fridge overnight. Keep boosters like chia or cacao powder on the counter next to your blender for quick prep.
- Make your smoothie or juice the night before and store in an air-tight container in the fridge. You can even freeze either of these and batch blend/juice over the weekend and
- Put non-perishables into each lunch bag at night.
Enjoy these tips and tell us your favorite item to pack in your and your kids’ lunch box!