Regardless of age, kids can be picky eaters. Your first grader may not want to eat anything green while your middle schooler may eschew milk for soft drinks. An easy way to ensure that your kids are eating for optimal health and development is to pack their lunches with a variety of foods that include the following nutrients.
Calcium is not only a critical mineral for strong bones and teeth, it promotes heart and muscle function, and blood clotting. Dairy is one of the best sources of calcium, with most kids needing three servings per day.
Easy ways to pack calcium into your kid’s lunch:
- Fruit smoothies made with yogurt or milk
- Sandwiches with thin slices of cheese and dark leafy greens
- Yogurt mixed with raw nuts and raisins
- Milk instead of juice
- Cheese sticks
Another bone-building mineral is magnesium, which can be found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and fish, such as halibut, pollock, and haddock.
You may think your kids have boundless energy, but if their diets are lacking in iron, they may end up fatigued and even anemic or suffer growth and behavior problems. Iron is a nutrient required to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells (RBCs). Without enough iron, the body can’t make enough RBCs, and tissues and organs won’t get the oxygen they need. Girls who are menstruating are at a slightly greater risk for iron deficiency.
Easy ways to pack iron into your kid’s lunch:
- Lean red meat sandwiches
- Seafood salads or wraps
- Hard boiled eggs
- Bean salads, soups, or chili
- Iron fortified cereals
- Dark leafy green salads
- Tofu smoothies or green smoothies made with dark leafy greens
For both kids and adults, exposure to sun, pollution, stress, unhealthy foods, and cigarette smoke or other toxins can cause oxidative reactions, or free radicals, in the body that are believed to cause maladies such as cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants, primarily vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene, are believed to be the most beneficial in protecting against cell damage and boosting the immune system.
Easy ways to pack antioxidants in your kid’s lunch:
- Snack bags of fresh fruit and vegetables (the riches in color, the better)
- Sandwiches layered with dark leafy lettuce or spinach
- Grain or green salads that include a handful of nuts
- Trail mix with raw nuts and dried fruit
- Nut butter and fresh fruit sandwiches
- Add ground or finely chopped nuts to ground meat dishes
- 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice
Fiber will boost your children’s digestive health, help them maintain a healthy weight, and reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease as they get older.
Easy ways to pack fiber in your kid’s lunch:
- Whole wheat bread and pasta instead of refined flour varieties
- Grain (quinoa, bulgur, brown rice) and bean salads and soups
- Whole fruits and vegetables instead of juices
- Fresh fruit and yogurt
- Fresh vegetables and ricotta or cottage cheese sprinkled with wheat germ or ground flax
- Pasta sauces made with finely chopped vegetables
- Vegetarian sandwiches made with thinly sliced veggies and whole wheat bread
- Snack bags of high fiber cereal
More healthy lunch ideas
- 10 Back to school lunch tips
- Back to school make ahead meals
- Cookie recipes for back to school lunches