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Healthy Back to School Lunches that Support Academic Performance



The weather is cooling off for many of us and our stores are plump with school supplies - it’s that time of the year! New pencils, new teachers the school year is beginning!

The big questions is - what’s for lunch?

How can you support your kiddo’s afternoon at school? Make sure that they are packing (and eating) a healthy lunch!

But what is healthy, really? It can be a confusing term. We are sharing the following six tips to ensure that your child‘s lunch is supporting their fullest academic performance.

  1. Make sure that the lunch has a balance of carbs, protein, and fat. Many of our kiddos prefer foods rich in carbohydrates, such as bread, fruits, crackers, and pretzels. Our brain needs carbohydrates for energy, but without fats and proteins to round out lunch, your kiddo might get too hungry too fast. For example, pair an apple (the carbohydrate) with almond butter to dunk (fats and protein).
  2. Include fruits and veggies. Our kid's brain and body need the nutrition from fruits and veggies. Packing a whole fruit or veggie might not be successful, especially for our texture sensitive kiddos and all of our kiddos that have very short lunch breaks. Fruits and vegetables that are cut up into small pieces offer a less overwhelming sensory experience, are more gentle for anyone wearing braces and can be less overwhelming. Applesauce and other fruit/veggie pouches are another healthy option.
  3. Pack a drink. Water is what we should all be drinking, most of the time. Kiddos who are dehydrated have a harder time focusing and learning. Small, 100% juice boxes are great for variety and a potential nutrition boost.
  4. Limit sugar. While we all love treats once in a while, having a lot of added sugar can make it really hard for a child to sit still and focus in class. Be sure to reward good performance, but opt for stickers, pencils and other non-food options.
  5. A lunch is only helpful if it gets eaten. Have your kiddo help pack his/her lunch! It is so frustrating if you spend time and energy (not to mention, money!) on making a healthy lunch for your kiddo, only to have it come right back home, uneaten. Kids are more likely to eat food that they’ve helped to prepare and pack, so get those kiddos in the kitchen!
  6. Bento boxes and other reusable containers are such a fun way to pack lunches. Not only does it prevent generating so much trash, but they also offer different foods for your child to try without having the foods touch! Just make sure that your kiddo is actually able to open all of the containers.

One time-saving strategy is to prepare lunch items over the weekend that can be assembled during the week into healthy lunches. For example, cutting up fruits and veggies and portioning out into bags, baking muffins to pack instead of a sandwich, hard-boiling eggs or roasting chicken to pack as a simple, healthy protein. Your kiddo might enjoy picking their lunch items from a basket of options in the fridge.

If your kiddo is feeling shy, anxious or overwhelmed, their lunch box could be a great place to leave them a little note or sticker to let them know that you’re thinking about them. If you pack a sticker, they could put it on their hand or clothes as a secret system for them to feel supported without their friends being the wiser.

- By Holly Larson, RD



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