This article includes excerpts from our Back to Montessori Booklet. Pick up a copy and learn everything your 3-6 child needs at home to thrive at school this year.
Sending your child off to school probably means that you are also packing a lunch five days a week. I often pack a lunch myself, and it's a challenge! Have you seen all the shelf-stable, single-serve packages for lunch? It's so temping to buy 20 of these and check lunch off the list. The problem with all those “lunchbox foods” out there is the lack of food in many of them So how do you get healthy lunches together in real life with limited time to prepare at home?
1. A Good Balance
Because your child is growing rapidly, good nutrition is critical. A balance of protein, fruit, and veggies, with some whole grains and dairy ensures your child is getting all the vitamins and minerals needed to grow and function at her best. Young children need good fat, proteins, and carbohydrates to sustain their energy and focus throughout the day. As long as this balance isn't upset by too much sugar, refined carbs, or empty calories, there is no need for “diets” or reduced fat foods.
2. Go Fresh
Fresh and whole foods are typically more nutritious than their processed counterparts. Most grocery produce sections offer pre-cut fresh veggies and fruit to save you time chopping at home. Frozen vegetables can also be a huge cost and time saver. I keep some in my freezer all the time!
3. Water is Best
Milk, juice, punch, and sodas are all full of calories, some as many as a sandwich! These drinks can fill your child’s stomach, leaving no room for other food. Make water more enticing by adding a piece of frozen fruit or some herbs, a squeeze of lemon, or sending small bottles of seltzer.
4. Plan for Independence
Involve your child in packing her lunch; she’ll be much more inclined to eat it! All lunch containers should be easy for your child to open and close on her own. Be sure to test this out at home first. Remember: you can not control what your child eats, or how much. But good, healthy options and a healthy tone around eating offers the best support for budding independence.
5. Watch for Sugar
These items are hard to resist, create a spike/slump energy cycle, and take up precious space in your child’s stomach. White flour products and other refined carbohydrates act similar to sugar in our bodies, as do juices and sweetened beverages. Many pre-packaged items contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. Read your labels! Peanut butters, jellies, fruit snacks, breakfast cereals, dressings, yogurt, and energy bars can all hold WAY more sugar than you’d expect. Other empty calories like salty snack foods have no place in a healthy lunch for children.
Here's what I pack for my husband everyday:
And an example of lunch at home for K at 2 years old:
How do you make lunch for your family? Share your healthy lunch tips over on our Facebook group for parents!
Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions.