Preparing a nutritionally balanced lunch that your kids will actually eat can sometimes feel like a roll of the dice – the second you think your lunch game is locked, it’s the day they come home with the box. elaborate bento box that you packed them still intact.
As parents, we take responsibility for the health of our children and this naturally results in a lot of stress about what they eat and what they don’t eat.
“Your job as a parent is to provide healthy, nutritious food as often as possible, on a consistent schedule,” said Aubrey phelps, functional perinatal and pediatric nutritionist. “But it’s up to your child to decide what to do with them.”
The best way to become a happy, healthy eater is to continue to offer what you ideally want your child to eat – and don’t take it personally if they choose not to eat it. When it comes to school lunches, Phelps recommends keeping it simple: “Focusing on specific vitamins or minerals can miss the big picture,” she said.
If you use the following macronutrient formula to make your kids’ breakfast and vary the sources for each, you’re almost guaranteed to have a healthy, balanced meal that will keep them focused and energetic in school.
50% vegetables and fruits
25% lean protein and healthy fats
25% starch or whole grains
The ideal school lunch formula is often called the plate method – a visual representation of what a well-balanced meal looks like.
“Every child needs a healthy balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) and vitamins and minerals”, Nicole avena, New York-based health psychologist and author of “What to feed your baby and toddler“Said the HuffPost. “The plaque method makes sure that no nutrient dominates the rest. ”
If your child has a lunch consisting mostly of carbohydrates or whole grains and protein, for example, they are likely to feel tired in the afternoon. Carbohydrates not only make you drowsy due to their ability to increase the levels of tryptophan and serotonin in the body (both of which are sleep-inducing compounds), but they can quickly raise your blood sugar and the subsequent drop. may tire you out, Avena mentioned. Even a larger serving of protein and a smaller amount of carbohydrate can make your child sleepy.
“Protein and fat are often more difficult to digest than carbohydrates and nutrients from fruits and vegetables,” Avena said. “This can potentially lead to fatigue, as your body needs more energy during digestion. “
Making sure their lunchbox contains all of the elements of this formula means your child will be consuming the right balance of nutrients to focus and enjoy their school day without feeling lazy.
Let’s break down the formula.
50% Vegetables And Fruits
Try: carrot sticks, pepper strips, grape tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, apple slices, watermelon, berries.
The largest portion, or half of the lunch box, should contain 2-3 different kinds of vegetables and fruits – preferably two vegetables and one fruit, as children’s daily vegetable intake tends to be less than their fruit consumption, according to a 2019 review published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
“Vegetables and fruits provide antioxidants to fight disease, including vitamin A for skin and eye health, lutein for eye protection (against blue light), and vitamin C for skin and eye health. immunity, ”said Amy Shapiro, New York dietitian and founder of Real nutrition.
Fruits and vegetables are also rich in water to keep children hydrated and contain fiber for sustained energy and better digestion.
25% lean protein and healthy fats
Try: chicken, turkey, tofu, edamame, hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, string cheese, nuts, seeds.
“Protein is the nutrient that takes the longest to digest, so having it in your child’s breakfast will keep them full and their blood sugar stable,” Shapiro said.
Depending on the type of protein supplied, it may also contain amino acids for muscle growth and repair, zinc for immunity, iron, and vitamin B12 for energy.
Moving on to healthy fats: “Fat helps keep you full, provides energy, and allows for the bioavailability and absorption of many vitamins that we consume from other foods,” Shapiro said. “By including fat in your child’s meals, you will help them stay full longer and have more energy. “
Enough fat is often already cooked in your food or part of the meal, so it doesn’t necessarily need to be a separate addition, Shapiro said. (Eggs and nut butters, for example, offer a combination of protein and healthy fats.)
25% starch or whole grains
Try: whole grain bread, cereal, granola, brown rice, quinoa, crackers, air popcorn.
“Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar in the body, providing energy for immediate use and reserves for later use,” Shapiro said. “Ideally, whole grains or whole wheat should be included, as they are high in nutrients, digest more slowly, and are high in fiber to help balance blood sugar and digestion.”
They also contain B vitamins, which are important for energy and metabolism.
But if your kid isn’t the biggest fan of whole grains, don’t worry: “Vegetables and fruits also fall into the carbohydrate category, so you don’t always have to think about bread or cereal though. your kid doesn’t like them, ”Shapiro said.
Starchy vegetables and fruits include carrots, corn, potatoes, winter squash, and bananas.
Even mild dehydration can lead to a decline in cognitive function.
“Being dehydrated can affect reaction time, attention, memory, and reasoning,” Avena said. “Children are potentially at higher risk for dehydration because they are more likely to depend on someone else for their fluid intake.”
Send your child to school with a large water bottle so that they get enough fluids during the school day and remind them to keep it at their desk.
“Out of sight equals oblivion,” said Phelps. “I also recommend a water bottle that will keep the water cold or room temperature (depending on your child’s preference) so that it doesn’t get turned off while drinking hot water.”
It also doesn’t have to be plain water – they may prefer fruit, coconut, or sparkling infusions, or an entirely different liquid, like milk or fruit or vegetable juice. 100 %.
“If your child is really having trouble drinking enough, consider sending in some moisturizing foods,” Phelps said. “Soups, smoothies, juicy fruits like grapes and melon, peppers and even yogurt are all moisturizing options that can help kids stay on track. “
The easiest way to measure lunchbox portions
Kids are intuitive eaters – they eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full, the amount of lunch they eat fluctuating from day to day – so there really aren’t any perfect portions to take out.
The easiest way to make sure you’re in the stadium? Use your child’s hands as a guide.
Think of your child’s hands as a plate – palms up, little fingers together. Half of their “plate” (or a hand) should consist of vegetables and fruit. The palm of the other hand contains protein and complex carbohydrates in the fingers.
“Using this method, the amounts needed change as your child grows (and the serving sizes needed),” said Phelps.
She is also a fan of bento box style lunch containers, which are already divided into child-friendly portions. You can fill one section with vegetables and fruit, one with protein and healthy fats, and one with starch or whole grains without guessing. These ratios do not necessarily need to be changed if your child has specific dietary needs.
“Appropriate substitutions are necessary to ensure that they have a large and nutritious meal, regardless of the nutritional modifications required,” Maya feller, a Brooklyn-based registered dietitian, told HuffPost. However, the general rule generally remains the same.
Ratios and formulas should only be used as a guide and not as a hard rule, as the children themselves should dictate how much food they should eat.
“If parents find that their child consistently eats 100% of the packaged food throughout the day, it could be a sign that they are going through critical developmental milestones and need more energy,” he said. declared Feller.
It’s also important to keep in mind that this is an all-day meal – so if a lunchbox comes home almost full, it’s not over. “We want to look at the nutrition during the day, not a single meal,” Shapiro said.
If in doubt, you can check with your children: ask how lunch went and change foods and portions based on feedback.
Remember: nutrition is cumulative
Show your child’s nutrition over the course of a week, not a day – or a meal. “They will get what they need over time,” Shapiro said. “Some days are great and some days are free and everything balances out.”
The most important thing a parent can do is create a good relationship with food. It’s more important than creating the perfect lunch.
“Kids tend to be more black and white thinkers, so I don’t recommend focusing on ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ or ‘fun’ foods,” said Krystyn Parks, a pediatric dietitian based in California. “All food is food. All food has a purpose.
Perfection is not the goal – establishing routines that work for you and your child do.
“Find your own routine, involve your kids in the choices, and don’t pit yourself against another person,” Feller said. “No day – or meal – will be perfect when it comes to nutrition. “