The Unprocessed School Lunch

Author: Rosetta Danigole, Lead Dietitian at UMC

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Planning School Lunches

The school year is upon us.  Now is the one of the busiest times for both parents and kids as they settle into new schedules and routines. For many, a big part of that experience is thinking about and planning school lunches.

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In today’s society more children suffer from obesity, autoimmune disorders, Autism spectrum, ADHD and gut sensitivities and allergies.  Parents have to consider these concerns as well as how to pack not only a healthy school lunch but also an economical one as well.

Processed Foods

The processed food craze has certainly contributed to these disorders with the addition of the preservatives, other chemicals and gluten that some children may be sensitive to.

The summer is the time when parents may be more lenient about food choices but hope to get their kids back on track with the school year.

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Some Recommendations

Remember to always keep the school lunches balanced with lean protein such as poultry, fish, lean beef, eggs, nuts or other meat alternatives.

Make lunches fun by making sure you use some of your kids’ favorite foods and be imaginative by including fun shaped sandwiches, a nice note from you, and maybe some stickers.

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Here are some ideas for the Unprocessed School Lunch with special consideration for gluten free if needed for those kids with digestive complaints.

  • Fresh Raw produce such as apples, berries, cherries, bell peppers, and carrots.  Cut them up in bite sized pieces and add a fun dip such as hummus or a nut butter (check school policy regarding nuts in school lunch boxes)
  • Dried fruit such as raisins, craisins, and apple chips are also great options.
  • Hummus or Avocado dips- You may be surprised the number of kids like these “dips”.  Try adding carrots for a crispy treat.
  • Gluten free Granola Bars or protein bars- This makes a great snack for your kids.  You can find those made with dried fruits, coconut, and flax held together by honey.
  • Popcorn- This is always a healthy snack and treat and makes a tasty crunchy treat instead of potato chips.
  • Protein options- Try boiled eggs, fresh sliced turkey, or homemade chicken strips for the protein items.  Kids may also eat grass fed turkey or beef jerky for a change. If you make a sandwich you can try pita bread, bagels or gluten free bread if preferred and needed.
  • Homemade soup in a thermos- This is an old-fashioned wonderful option for your kids.  Nothing like mom’s homemade soup when it comes for lunch.  If gluten sensitive you can always use rice noodles and add nut floured crackers on the side.
  • Yogurt- Try adding a low sugar yogurt or a piece of string cheese for a calcium boost.

Most important when you have the chance introduce kids to new foods and make sure the dinner meal is full of healthy vegetables, complex carbohydrates and lean protein.

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About the Author

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As the lead dietitian at University Medical Center New Orleans, Rosetta Danigole manages clinical dietetic operations. She is a member of the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition and belongs to the clinical dietitian practice group. She has been a dietitian for 35 years.