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Healthy School Lunch Ideas

Ashley Giles is the Health Services Consultant at Community Montessori. She is a family nurse practitioner and has been a parent at Community Montessori since 2016.

She has presented the information below to share with you based on her experiences as a healthcare professional and parent. We hope you find this information helpful to your family!

Why is a healthy school lunch, and any meal for that matter, important? The over consumption of sugar is increasingly being linked to brain-related health issues such as depression, learning disorders, memory problems and overeating. Research suggests consumption of sugar and sweets can trigger reward and craving states in your brain similar to addictive drugs. While these are serious health concerns in themselves, sugar impairs your brain’s ability to concentrate, assimilate and store information and inhibits the body’s ability to control impulsive behavior. Over consumption of sugar at any meal of the day, but especially breakfast or lunch does do well to set your child up for success in his behavior or learning. One of the biggest ways we can support our learners for a successful day is to give their bodies (and brains) the ‘food information’ it needs to function at their best.

Children ages 4-8 with a daily caloric intake of 1,600 calories should consume no more than 130 calories, or about 3 teaspoons a day of ‘free sugars’. (Ages 8-11 4tsp and ages 11-18 5tsp) What are ‘free sugars’? Free sugars’ are any sugars that are added to food or drinks, or present naturally in unsweetened fruit juices, honey or syrups. It does not include natural sugar found in fruits, vegetables and milk. The average American consumes over 19tsp of sugar a day! Almost double the recommended amount.

Hidden sources of sugars include cereals, sauces, packaged or dried fruits, jellies, sports drinks, gummie snacks, yogurts, and fruit juices. One serving of lucky charms (3/4c) contains 3tsp of sugar, which is over half of a young child’s daily allowance for the day! Most yogurts contain as much sugar as a candy bar and one sports drink a day easily doubles their daily sugar allowance.

While providing a healthy lunch every day can be a challenge, it can be done. Having your learner help in preparation can make this easier yet. Start with having four categories to fill: One fruit, one vegetable, one healthy fat and one healthy protein. Sometimes these categories will overlap and that’s okay. Have options for each category listed out on the refrigerator and pack away! See below for some sample lists and recipes that have been successful in our house:

Optional Fillers: (WHOLE grain carbohydrate options) Rice cakes, air popped popcorn, plantain chips, high fiber whole grain cereals (Add the fiber and protein and this should be double the sugar in grams to qualify).

One small dessert: (Limit serving size to <12gms (4tsp) of sugar as this is the max intake for young children for the day) Dum dum sucker, fruit strips, Hersey’s kiss, Gold fish, fruit snacks, pea crisps, pirate puffs, mini candy bars, chocolate dipped nuts, candied nuts, honey grahams, higher sugar yogurts.

Example meals:

  1. Hard boiled eggs, cheese slices, apple and snap peas

  2. Edamame, carrot slices with peanut butter, peach

  3. Lentil noodles with tomato sauce, olives, a banana

  4. Lunch meat and cheese cucumber rolls, hummus and tomatoes, applesauce packet.

  5. Trail mix (nuts, dried cherries/raisins, pumpkin/sunflower seeds, chocolate chips) Mixed with whole grain high fiber cereal (Kashi). Strawberries and sliced red pepper.

  6. Mashed potatoes with shredded cheese, apples and peanut butter.

  7. Low sugar full fat yogurt with berries and sweet potato with cinnamon and butter.

  8. Asparagus wrapped in bacon with peaches and rice cakes.

  9. Energy balls, snap peas and edamame.

  10. Olives, tomatoes, mozzarella with hummus and apple sauce pouch.

  11. Oat pancakes with yogurt and berries, snap peas.

Helpful recipes:

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