Hack their school lunch to keep them fueled on busy days

Welcome to back-to-school season! While many of us are sorry to see summer go, we’re also looking forward to reeling in some of the chaos it wrought on schedules and routines. I know I am. The school year may be a grind but my household runs so much more efficiently with established routines. And as a mom, efficiency makes me happy. (So does finally getting my summer night owls back to bed at a reasonable hour!)

One of my favorite daily routines is packing school lunches. I know, hot take. But it gives me peace of mind knowing that the foods I include nourish and energize my children. And we all need a little extra fuel when we’re juggling school, extracurriculars, busy weekends, and more. So I’ve compiled some of my favorite dietitian-approved tips and healthy school lunch ideas for packing an extra dose of energy into their mid-day meals.

1. Carbs are an energizing powerhouse

Cue the communal sigh of relief! You’ve probably spent some time worrying that your kid eats too many beige carbohydrates, but carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy—and kids need a lot of them! To make them count, opt for whole grains (like whole-wheat crackers, bread, tortillas, and pasta), which are rich in fiber, rather than processed grains. Consuming fiber improves digestion, balances blood sugar, and increases satiety to help you feel full for longer stretches. Brown rice, overnight oats, and quinoa are amazing sources of fiber to pop in a lunch box.

2. Double-duty foods give an added boost of fuel

Protein provides satiety and sustained energy, which can tide you over between meals and snacks. Protein also slows the digestion of carbohydrates, or sugar, which prevents blood sugar spikes that can make kids tired and moody. Like protein, dietary fat also helps you feel fuller for longer, especially when paired with carbohydrates, and keeps spikes at bay. So why not pack foods that include both? (Mom hack for the win.) Foods that contain both fat and protein include nuts and seeds, cheese, eggs, and fatty animal proteins like salmon.

Related: 9 Dietitian-Approved Packaged Costco Snacks for Kids

3. Pack in some extra oomph with shelf-stable produce

Carrot and celery sticks, apple and orange slices, fresh berries, and bell pepper strips are standard lunchbox fair for a reason: Kids love them and they brighten up their meals (after all, we do eat with our eyes first). But you can give them an added dose of vitamins and minerals with shelf-stable fruit and veggie snacks, like applesauce cups, fruit and veggie pouches, freeze-dried or dried fruits, and crispy vegetable chips.

4. Ditch the juice boxes and opt for water

What if I told you that water not only hydrates, it also energizes? It’s actually not that surprising since we’re all mostly made of water. Pack a reusable water bottle for your kids so they can concentrate, play, and go about their day without getting dehydrated. And if they’re not typically into drinking water, try adding some fresh lemon slices or berries to dazzle up their H2O.

5. Think about a lunchtime snackle box

Every now and then, consider switching up your sandwich or thermos of pasta for a bento box full of snacks. These also work well for kids who don’t like typical lunch fare. In the same way that you would design a charcuterie board, build a lunch that’s made of energizing snacks. Some great options would be nuts (just remember that whole nuts are a choking hazard for children under age 4), dried fruit, cottage cheese, yogurt, and cheese slices, which you can pair with whole-grain crackers. Don’t forget to include dips, a great source of fat! Guacamole, hummus, nut butter, and cream cheese are fan favorites. If you’re in a pinch, consider nourishing packaged snacks such as popcorn, granola bars, and whole-grain cereals.

Your daily dose of joy and connection
Get the Tinybeans app