For many families, lunch is a meal that often becomes nutritionally void as we gravitate toward quick and easy options like sandwiches and chips. Or we may get into a rut where we just can’t think of good options for ourselves and especially our children.
As a helpful visual, I photo documented one week’s worth of my daughter’s lunches (age 3). I did not pick and choose or plan this out, but rather gave you a completely honest picture of what one week of lunches looked like for us:
There are many other options that we did not happen to eat this week, but this will give you a starting point to consider what a realistic picture of healthy eating might look like in your home with small children as it does in mine.
Monday: Leftover pulled pork, mango, and avocado. Avocados are my favorite super-food go-to and I love that she will eat an entire avocado in one sitting (not all kids will do this, my son for example!). If your child likes avocado make it a regular part of lunches! It is simple for you and provides so many health benefits for them.
Tuesday: Banana, natural peanut butter, and strawberries.
Wednesday: This was grocery day so we were scraping the bottom of the barrel (and refrigerator!). Banana Almond Butter Muffins and plain high fat Greek yogurt with a drizzle of local honey to sweeten.
Thursday: This is an example of a meatless lunch I often serve that is packed with nutrition and will keep her full all afternoon. Avocados as previously mentioned are densely nutritious and filling. Similarly, almonds are a simple option that will load your child up on protein and nutrients, and paired with the avocado this lunch will provide your child with all the protein, nutrients, and healthy fats they need to stay full and energized. This is a great example of a lunch that you can throw together with very little food in the house yet still packs a nutritional punch.
Friday: Leftover pork tenderloin, rice, and a carrot (I have found that giving her a carrot whole is much more “fun” for her than cutting it up or giving her baby carrots! Always look for things that make your child more interested in eating healthy foods and run with it!)
Saturday: Leftover herb roasted chicken drumsticks, rice, homemade kale chips.
Sunday: This was a get-home-from-church-and-find-something-to-feed-the-kids-before-naps kind of afternoon, so I pulled some gluten free bread out of the freezer to make a peanut butter sandwich with natural peanut butter.
That was our week! Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but a jumping off point for you to consider ways you can tweak your family’s lunch lifestyle to foster healthier choices.
Here are some general tips for creating healthy lunches:
#1: Keep it simple. Don’t feel like you need to have a main course, vegetable, and side for every lunch. As you saw in the pictures, my kids often eat fruit rather than veggies at lunch and sometimes we go for non traditional lunch foods. Work with what you have and don’t feel like you need to have an elaborate meal to be healthy or a strictly “traditional” type lunch (as you saw, sometimes we just go for healthy muffins and yogurt!).
#2: Utilize leftovers. If I want a meat option at lunch, I always use leftovers. I make a point of cooking far more at every meal than we will eat that night so that we can have plenty of leftovers for dinner the next day or for lunch. Get creative with your leftovers–if you make roasted chicken with rice and a veggie for dinner, throw some leftover chicken and rice on a salad for your lunch the next day and pair your children’s with fresh fruit and maybe a dipping sauce. Leftovers have always been such a staple in my life I am always surprised by how many people don’t eat leftovers. If you are struggling to make healthy choices at lunch time this is a great way to start so that you can focus on cooking healthy meals for dinner which will then be available to you ready made for lunch the following day.
#3: Experiment with non-meat proteins. If I don’t have leftovers I always choose non-meat proteins and healthy fats for my kids such as avocado, high fat Greek yogurt, peanut butter, almonds, or cheese. Make sure you always have a few of these proteins on hand and some easy to prepare fruits or vegetables and you can easily mix and match based on what food you have in the house to provide a nutritious and filling lunch for your little ones.
Some babies and toddlers have a hard time with the texture of avocados. For my one year old son I puree avocado with fruit and a splash of water in my Nutribullet to create a creamy fruit puree. If your older toddler or preschooler doesn’t like the texture of avocados, you could make a simple guacamole with some lime juice, salt, pepper, and onion powder and let them dip veggies or crackers in it. Get creative to make nutritious foods enjoyable for your child!
I would love to hear some of your favorite healthy lunches in the comments!