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Healthy Lunches For Kids

mother and child cooking soup

If you have school-aged children, you are probably concerned about the quality and healthfulness of the food they are served in school. As if the “balanced” lunches of greasy French fries and frozen pizza are not bad enough, our kids are also plied with the temptations of vending machines filled with candy and sodas.

The obvious solution is to pack delicious, nutrient-dense and junk-free lunches for your children to enjoy. Filling your kid’s lunchbox with healthy and truly enjoyable alternatives is vital to preventing them from succumbing to unhealthy temptations. It will also help instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Of course, packing healthy lunches every weekday is a big meal planning challenge. So, today, I’m going to share with you five simple tips to help make the job a breeze.

Healthy Lunch Tip # 1:  Try Soup For a Super Lunch

beef stew

Soups, stews and chili make wonderful “main” dishes for kids’ lunches. Make soups with a base of bone broth. Add pastured chicken or grass-fed beef and organic vegetables and you have a nutrient-dense lunch. You also have meals that are ideal for making ahead of time. Freeze in individual servings. For soups, I love to use a stainless steel muffin tin. Once the soup is frozen, I pop the individual servings from the tin and store in freezer bags.

Simply re-heat and pack in a plastic-free insulated container (like the ones made by Cayman Kitchen). Here are a few nutrient-dense, kid-friendly soup options to consider:

Healthy Lunch Tip # 2: Blend Up a Superfood Smoothie

smoothie, superfood, blueberries

Another quick and nutrient-dense lunch addition is a smoothie. Not only can you incorporate a number of servings of vegetables (think organic spinach, kale and broccoli) and a significant amount of protein (try bone broth protein, grass-fed collagen or whey protein), you also can punch up the “yum factor” with low-glycemic, antioxidant-rich organic berries and healthy fats (coconut milk, almond milk).

Unlike incorporating fresh berries into kids’ lunches, using frozen organic berries offers year-round convenience and significant cost savings. Many smoothie recipes call for honey or bananas. I prefer a few drops of stevia to keep the sugar content low.

That way, the smoothies you make will be enjoyable “treats” that nourish growing bodies and brains… while keeping blood sugar levels balanced for optimal focus. Be sure to include more substantial items in your kid’s lunch meal along with your smoothie to keep your child satiated. Here are a few ideas:

Healthy Lunch Tip #3: Add Healthy Crunch For Interest

While other classmates are digging into vegetable-oil laden chips and refined-flour crackers, offer your kiddo a better-for-you form of “crunch”.

Nuts and seeds (ideally soaked and sprouted to liberate the nutrients), trail mix, sprouted crackers, fresh-cut organic carrot and celery sticks with quick homemade guacamole or Primal Kitchen Ranch Dressing are all great options.

A few forward-thinking brands now make Paleo-friendly crackers and chips; try Simple Mills Rosemary & Sea Salt Almond Flour Crackers, Siete Tortilla Chips and Inka Crops Plantain Chips for convenient snacks that maintain an ancestral composition.

Healthy Lunch Tip # 4: Include Brain-Boosting Omega-3 Fats

It’s long been known that the omega-3 fats found in seafood are beneficial to brain health.

In a recent study of children aged 7-9, the researchers found that low levels of DHA and other omega-3 fats were associated with poor reading and memory skills, as well as behavioral problems.[i]

In another study, a cohort of healthy boys were randomly assigned to receive a daily dose of either 1,200 mg of DHA, 400 mg of DHA, or a placebo, for 60 days. The researchers then measured the boys’ brain activation patterns while they played video games.

The boys who received the highest daily dose showed a 70 percent increase of DHA levels in the membrane of their red blood cells. The low-dose group saw a 47 percent increase, while the placebo group had an 11 percent decrease. The researchers confirmed this intervention resulted in dose-dependent greater activation of the pre-frontal cortex and improved reaction time.[ii]

So boost your child’s brainpower with clean-sourced, low-contaminant seafood. Mackerel and sardines are ideal choices due to their small size (and therefore naturally-low levels of contaminants), with wild salmon and low-contaminant tuna on occasion. Mix with Paleo-friendly mayonnaise (try Primal Kitchen) and pack along with celery sticks or Paleo-friendly crackers for dipping.

Healthy Lunch Tip #5: Have Grab-and-Go After-School Snacks at The Ready

paleo choice meat stick, snacks for kids

Extracurricular activities like soccer, dance and student government add an additional requirement to your lunch-packing plate: Healthy after-school snacks. Stock up and plan ahead to reduce stress and ensure your kids have nutrient-dense snacks at the ready. Some of my favorites include:

Sound nutrition is imperative to your child’s long-term health, happiness and success in life. With every meal, you are providing the building blocks for your child’s future. While it takes a little more time to pack a healthy lunch, it is one of the best investments you can make for your child’s well-being!

Read more of Kelley Herring’s health and wellness articles on our Discover Blog.

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Kelley Herring

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[i] Montgomery P, Burton JR, Sewell RP, Spreckelsen TF, Richardson AJ (2013) Correction: Low Blood Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids in UK Children Are Associated with Poor Cognitive Performance and Behavior: A Cross-Sectional Analysis from the DOLAB Study. PLOS ONE 8(9): 10.1371/annotation/26c6b13f-b83a-4a3f-978a-c09d8ccf1ae2. |   View correction

[ii] McNamara RK1, Able J, Jandacek R, Rider T, Tso P, Eliassen JC, Alfieri D, Weber W, Jarvis K, DelBello MP, Strakowski SM, Adler CM. Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation increases prefrontal cortex activation during sustained attention in healthy boys: a placebo-controlled, dose-ranging, functional magnetic resonance imaging study.Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Apr;91(4):1060-7. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28549. Epub 2010 Feb 3.