What does a famous Chinese Military General and a school lunch box have in common? Read on to find out 🙂

I am pretty sure that the word around all your mum groups is the dreaded “Back-to-School” week. It’s everywhere, right? Count downs, to-do lists, the dos and don’ts, how to survive back-to-school season etc…

I’m here to give you a pat on the back and say to you “I’m with you!”.

All the admin, school runs, extra activities and… the meal planning. Every. Single. Day.
 I get it, it is stressful. But no, I am not going to focus on that!

We are here to “Turn that frown…well you know, upside down” and please bear with me while I tell you why Back-To-School madness is also an excellent chance for a positive shift, because as the Chinese Emperor Sun Tzu said “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” 

(I am not sure if Sun Tzu had a balanced diet though) 

Post Vacation Blues

Vacation is the perfect opportunity to connect with our kids and probably bend some of our rules 😊 It is the time when you build lifelong memories and take a break from the usual schedule by being open to new experiences, cultures and of course new cuisines and food; and it’s not the time I want to convince my daughter to eat her greens “…Because I said so!” This is when most of us tend to overindulge- Parents & children alike. Snacking can become excessive, and portions and food quality might not be monitored, because, you know, we need a break too!

While I was in Dubai airport, I gave in to my daughter’s request for French fries, because I was not able to search for her usual organic chia seed almond pudding while running towards the gate to catch my flight. Guilty.

And this is why…. fellow mums, dads, and caretakers, Back-to-School season gives us the perfect opportunity to gently bring back balance, structure, and routine to our little one’s dietary habits!

The Importance of Packing a Healthy Lunchbox

Science

I will now tell you something that you think you might know, but maybe…just maybe…. You likely have not have grasped the extent of it, like I hadn’t before I started reading all the related information.

I mean we all know, and we all have heard and read how important it is for kids to have a balanced diet. What we might not have fully realized is the direct correlation between academic performance and healthy eating among children.

The scientific research and data are unquestionable; there is a direct connection between your kid’s diet and how well he or she will do in school. Healthy meals and healthy snacks:

  • Improve academic performance.
  • Help children concentrate and have more energy for sports and activities throughout the day 
  • Promote healthy eating habits.
  • Impact a child’s growth and development (both physicially & mentally)

The science findings are so mind blowing that they are now taken into account by school boards all over the world. And this is why improving the nutritional content of public-school meals is a topic of intense policy interest. The main motivation is primarily the health of school children, and the rising childhood obesity rate. BUT Medical and nutrition literature has long claimed that a healthy diet can have a second very important impact: improved cognitive function!

And the fun vibes….

Packing a healthy school lunchbox is not only a great way to supply your kids with healthy nutrients and quality food. It is also a way to educate you child in what healthy diet choices can be and the impact their food choices have. This convo can be adjusted according to the age range of your little one. I find it also a nice chance for bonding during food prep with my daughter when cleaning vegetables and fruits and while we discuss why I will pack packed broccoli florets and hummus instead of string cheese and Oreos.

Useful tips for packing your healthy lunch box.

Let’s keep it simple: There are 2 things that you need to keep in mind when packing your kids lunch boxes: 1) Presentation & 2) Food choices.

Presentation:

We have seen these little bento masterpieces that some really talented mums manage to make an apple slice look like a small Greek sculpture. But since I became a mom to 2, my mantra is…. “Better done than perfect”.

No need to take any food sculpting classes. A few cookie cutters and vegetable peelers can do the trick. Mini cookie cutters are the best in turning an apple or a watermelon into little heart or a star. And a vegetable peeler is perfect to cut a hard carrot in to ribbons.

Lunch boxes, containers and bentos: Amazon is full of school lunch box choices and food tins to keep food warm. My advice is definitely invest a good tin thermos for warm food, leak proof lunch boxes and BPA-free small containers for snacks. I find small, colorful, silicone muffin molds perfect for placing berries or small cantaloupe pieces inside their lunchbox and helping them stay in place.

Making it quirky: Little Post it notes with a small love message to your little ones are always a good idea.

Colors: Eat the Rainbow!  And, I don’t mean red, green, and yellow gummy bears. Red cherry tomatoes, orange hummus, yellow peppers, green cucumbers and bell peppers, blueberries, purple grapes(always halved the long way, to avoid choking!) . You get the jist…

Food Choices

Regarding food choices the formula is quite simple fill half of the lunch box with colorful fruits or vegetables, one-quarter with whole grains, and the remaining quarter with healthy proteins. . 

  • The more vegetables – and the greater the variety – the better (Aim for two to three different types and remember French fries don’t count 😊)
  • Add plenty of fruits of all colors.
  • Choose whole grains or foods made with minimally processed whole grains. The less processed the grains, the better. Eg brown rice, whole-grain pasta and 100% whole-wheat bread—have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin than white rice, bread, pizza crust, pasta, and other refined grains.
  • Add healthy proteins like soybeans, lentils, beans, tofu… the list is endless here, but edamame is a huge lunchbox success in my home!

And, the drink of choice should always be water.

My last quote I promise…. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Meal Prep for the Win

Although we know the facts and we all want what is best for our kids; it is the meal planning that gets in the middle of our good intentions. 

So, try to prepare in advance. Choose a day during the week when you are less busy. Order, wash, pre-cut and keep fresh fruit and vegetables in airtight containers lined with paper towel in the refrigerator, in order to have them ready to pack.

Prepare snacks that are easy to carry and are school friendly (usually all schools have a nut free policy, because of allergies and choking hazards so be cautious of your schools’ regulations). And speaking of snacks, here is something that I would also like to share with you….

Snacks

This is the area where I, personally, could have done better:

In these hectic mornings when trying to quickly pack my children’s lunchboxes it was easier for me to pack as many snacks as I could, especially when I hadn’t prepared anything form the night before.

But here is the downside of packing a lunch box with snacks only:

Lunch time is the perfect time of the day for you kid to eat their biggest most balanced and nutritionally packed meal. We are wired to eat the biggest meal of the day during lunch time ( between 11:30- 13:30), and this is super important for kids!  So, we shouldn’t neglect this meal or treat it as a snack. Filling a lunchbox with snack items is an opportunity lost to feed your child with the bulk of the nutrients they need throughout the day.

So please remember, snacks are not meant to replace the meal but to fill the gap between meals instead. Keep snacking in moderation and always opt for fresh produce instead of pre-packaged goods. Eg vegetable sticks and hummus or apple slices with a nut butter, any/all fruits!

Get your kids involved!

Kids love to be in charge. Let them help you wash the fruits and vegetables and get them involved in healthy food prep. That is a life skill for life long healthy eating habits.

Choose wisely 

There is nothing wrong in ordering pre-cut food or vegetables or opting for in-school meal services, but you need to be mindful of the quality of ingredients used, their origin, the saturated fat content, the sodium quantity etc. This is usually where the nutrients (or lack thereof) can become a problem. Also, school lunches tend to be high in saturated fats, sodium and use lots of preservatives to ensure the food lasts longer- all of which are not really great for our growing kiddos. 

For help managing lunch, you can always reach out to Sprout to help you design your kiddo’s weekly mealbox- This will take one thing off your to-do list and give you assurance that your kiddo’s meals are designed by nutrition scientists! 

So, Mamas, remember: Back-to-School is a season- it doesn’t last too long and by week 2 or 3 your family is already in the groove. With the right planning, and a no-stress attitude,  this new school year can be a great opportunity to un-do some of that summer-love damage and make some great changes to support your little one’s growing bodies to be their best self!