Dr. Bianca Garilli, ND

I take some pride at my ability to whip up nutritious and appetizing dinner for my family with limited time and high levels of chaos in the kitchen (the norm in many homes across the country at dinner time from what I hear!).   But packing nutritious and appetizing lunches during the school year? Well, that’s a different story.

The start of the school year is quickly approaching and my mind is already spinning. Not only do the kids need a lunch but they need a snack and on some days will require TWO snacks.

Packing school lunches comes with its own set of unique challenges:

  • no peanuts or tree nuts allowed in some cases
  • must be able to withstand the rigors of a backpack, playground and car and/or bus ride
  • should include an easy to eat and fun combination of protein, fibers and healthy fats
  • needs to entice the child to eat it rather than swap for a friend’s processed packaged meal and snack
  • must remain fresh for up to 7 hours without spoiling, becoming soggy, melting or otherwise becoming inedible
  • needs to look “cool”
  • must be colorful
  • should provide a healthy dose of fiber, vitamins, minerals, macro and micronutrients

I know I’m not the only one with this dilemma, parents across the nation are feeling the same anxiety as lunch boxes are pulled from the summer storage shelves and grocery lists are being made. What to pack the kids for lunch?

Below are some ideas, guidelines and tips which will hopefully help you and your growing children make the most nutritious, fun and appetizing choices for lunches and snacks this school year. Bon appetite!

Dr. Garilli school lunchbox packing guidelines: Start the planning process with a main lunch meal consisting of a combination of protein source, vegetables and whole grains. Add in accompanying fruit or additional vegetables to round out the lunch. Use a combination of seeds and nuts (if allowed) plus the butters from these ingredients, in addition to whole grains, fruits, vegetables, bean dips and dairy or non-dairy alternatives for snacks. Sweet teeth can be pacified with fruit a majority of the time. Plan out lunches a week in advance for best results and as your kids get old enough, have them help out as well!

All of the recommendations below should be adjusted to our child’s palette, food sensitivities, food allergies and size of appetite.

1 – Lunch and snack: California Roll Day

  • California rolls with reduced sodium soy sauce and extra slices of avocado
  • Sliced apples with sunflower butter “dip”
  • Cheese stick or non-dairy protein source
  • Whole grain or GF crackers
  • Olives (green, black or combination) and cherry tomatoes
  • Water or favorite herbal tea

2 – Lunch and snack: Nacho Day

  • Nachos – Organic corn chips packed separately from “taco” mix (depending on your child’s and family’s food choices this may include beans, chicken, pork, beef, etc). Add a small container which includes toppings for the nachos which may include sliced avocado, sliced olives, salsa, grated cheese, etc. Show your child how to easily assemble the meal in a larger bowl at lunchtime
  • Watermelon or other favorite fruit slices
  • Cucumber slices (add a slice or two of lemon if your child likes this combination). Some children prefer pickles which make a great addition to a lunch as well!
  • Container of pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or other nut or seed depending on your child’s school lunch policy, allergies, etc.
  • Water or favorite herbal tea

3 – Lunch and snack: Rice/Quinoa, Vegetable and Chicken Day

  • Brown rice or quinoa mixed with sautéed vegetables and chicken. (Cook the night before and pack warm in a thermos or cold as a “rice salad”. Season with your favorite herbs and spices.)
  • Plain yogurt (dairy, goat or dairy free) mixed with small amount of healthy sweetener such as maple syrup, agave syrup, or add fruit for natural sweetener.
  • Container of home-made or natural granola
  • Pear or other seasonal fruit, sliced or whole depending on the age of your child
  • Carrot sticks and home-made or natural Ranch or other favorite dipping sauce if desired
  • Water or favorite herbal tea
  • – Lunch and snack: Breakfast for Lunch Day
  • Whole grain pancakes with a small serving of jam, honey or maple syrup
  • Hard boiled egg(s) – if your children have a difficult time with the sulfur smell, slice the eggs the night before and let them “off-gas” on the counter for 30 minutes before packing them up for lunch. This can sometimes help reduce the odor that typically accompanies hard boiled eggs.
  • Oranges, mandarin, tangelos, etc. – whole or sliced and peeled
  • Raw or lightly steamed broccoli and cauliflower mix
  • Plain yogurt (dairy, goat or dairy free) mixed with small amount of healthy sweetener such as maple syrup, agave syrup, or add fruit for natural sweetener.
  • Water or favorite herbal tea

5– Lunch and snack: Soup and Thermos Day

  • Favorite home made soup: lentil, chili, stew, chicken with rice or whole grain noodles, etc. packed into a thermos to stay warm until lunch. This can be a great way to pack in some extra veggies – make the night before and pack as leftovers
  • Whole grain or GF crackers or sliced bread to accompany the soup
  • All natural fruit roll or leather
  • Celery sticks with approved nut or seed butter
  • Water or favorite herbal tea

Other main meal ideas: vegetable and/or bean rolls or on pita, turkey burger (with bun and sides packed separately), personal homemade pizza, burrito (bean, meat, chicken or egg and potato), spaghettis and meatballs.

biancagarilli 2014 copyDr. Garilli is a former US Marine turned Naturopathic Doctor. She runs a private practice in Folsom, California where she specializes in treating and preventing chronic disease states through a personalized lifestyle approach including nutrition, exercise, botanical medicine and homeopathy.

In addition to private practice, she consults with nutritional supplement companies and integrative medical clinics on case studies, professional consultations and educational program development. Dr. Garilli is a member of the faculty at Hawthorn University and a founding board member for the CA Chapter of the Children’s Heart Foundation. Dr. Garilli lives in Northern California with her husband, children and four backyard chickens.

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