10 School Lunch Dilemmas – Solved!

August 20, 2013
Categories: Kids, Lunchboxes

It’s back to school time…and that means it’s time to get back to packing lunches again!!  It is not always easy to come up with a healthy lunch…that your kid will actually eat!  Does it frustrate you to pack up a lunch, and then have most of it come back home again?  These are some solutions to ten of your common lunchbox dilemmas – to help you upgrade your kids’ lunch this year!

10 School Lunch Dilemmas Solved:

Dilemma # 1: Lukewarm & Icky lunch: 

A recent study found that 90%(!!) of kids school lunches can reach unsafe temperatures, even lunches with an ice pack inside could get too warm! I wouldn’t blame a kid for not eating their lunch that gets all warm & icky.  A lunch that has not been kept cold enough is not only unappetizing, it can also be downright dangerous – because it can breed food-borne bacteria that can make you sick.  Plus a lot of California students keep their lunches outside in the hot sun, which raises the temperature even faster.

Solution:Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 4.00.37 PM Keep it Cold & Safe with a Pack It!   Last year, I was so excited to find Pack-Its. They fold down neatly so they can be stored in the freezer, and then in the morning, you pull it out, and they act like little portable refrigerators all day long!  I love knowing that my kids lunch stays fresher and safer in the Pack-It.  I even bought a bigger one that I bring to the grocery store, beach, and the park. I can shop for dinner items while my kids are in sports, and know it will stay cold and fresh until we get home.  We love our Pack-Its!


Dilemma #2: Newly gluten-free, and not a fan of gluten-free bread.

Coming up with ideas for healthy lunches that kids will eat can be a challenge. How about if your child is going gluten-free for the first time this year?  That just ups the ante!  According to the Journal Pediatrics, food allergies are on the rise, so more and more kids will likely be needing gluten-free lunches this year.

Solution: Good Gluten free sandwich options!

Gluten is a protein that can wreak havoc on an increasing number of people’s digestive system and overall health. But gluten also gives bread and other products a soft and chewy texture. So when you remove the gluten, some of the softness and chewiness is not there.  I have got to admit, the gluten-free bread options are decent and getting better and better, but day-old gluten-free bread is not going to be very soft and chewy. Do not fret, going gluten-free, does not mean you have to give up sandwiches, you just need a little creativity:

  • AP 3DChebe Bread Sandwiches etc.  Ahhhh bread…if you have recently gone gluten free, you might be dreaming about soft, chewy and fluffy bread.  I used to, then I found Chebe bread mixes – I can make homemade bread in about 30 minutes. Unlike regular bread, it doesn’t require kneading! You just add egg, oil, and optionally cheese – mix it up, and pop them into the oven!  You can whip up breadsticks, buns, even pizza dough in a snap – and they are fresh & delicious, and gluten free!!  My local store stopped carrying it – so I ordered a case from Amazon!  I love to make breadsticks for the kids for their lunch, and we often make the buns for hamburgers too.  These are great for school lunches.
  • Panini sandwich:  We like to toast our gluten free bread, or turn them into panini sandwiches, because toasted gluten free bread just tastes yummier.  I find wrapping them in parchment or foil tends to prevent them from getting soggy by lunchtime.
  • Cracker “sandwiches”  – This is great for the kid that is tired of sandwiches, or prefers more of a “finger-food type” lunch too.  Try Mary’s Gone Crackers – they have superfoods like chia seeds in them, and are also gluten free, so they make a good base for any cracker sandwich!  There are plenty of gluten free crackers out there – Glutino, Nut Thins, and Rice crackers – find which one your child likes the best.  Put whatever topping you want – nitrate free ham, nut butter, hummus, or tuna salad all work great.

Dilemma # 3: Struggles with Focus & Attention Issues.

Everyone talks about breakfast as one of the most important meals of the day, but school lunch is extremely important too!  Teachers tell me all the time that they know which students had a healthy lunch and which ones did not – because the kids that didn’t often are sleepy and have a hard time focusing in the afternoon.

Solution: Pack some “brain food” in the lunchbox!

Packing healthy choices that will boost kids’ brains is really important if we want them to excel in school.  Omega 3s are essential fatty acids that the body can not make – so we need to consume them. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is deficient in these important nutrients.  Found in foods like fatty fish, chia seeds, and nuts – omega 3s are important brain and mood food.   Here are some easy ways to introduce omega 3s in the lunchbox:

  • Tuna Salad: My kids love tuna salad – we always buy Wild Planet tuna because it has higher levels of omega 3s, and less mercury than other brands.  Serve with crackers, a wrap, or between 2 slices of bread.Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 1.07.53 PM
  • Mamma Chia Squeeze packs – an upgrade to the typical fruit puree squeeze packs – these contain 1,200 mg of ALA omega 3s, which supports brain function, mood, hydration and helps to fill you up – giving you longer lasting energy.  These also boost hydration, so not only are they great in lunchboxes, but they also make a great before-sports snack.
  • NuttZo nut butter:  nuts are a pretty good source of omega 3s, but because NuttZo has chia seeds and flax seeds in them – it is an even better option than other nut butters.  Plus, they offer a peanut-free version – so kids who are not allowed to bring peanut butter can use PF NuttZo instead.
  • Barleans Omega Swirls to go – although Omega Swirls are fish oil, they taste like a delicious smoothie.  Barleans Swirls to go come in little portable packets an would be a good way to give your child’s brain a boost of omega 3s for the afternoon.

Note: artificial colors and other chemicals have been linked to hyperactivity and attention problems – so avoid sending foods with those ingredients in the lunchbox if your child has issues with focus & attention.

Dilemma #4: My kid crashes and burns after lunch:

I hear from a lot of clients that they need to eat every couple hours, otherwise they just crash and burn.  Sugar and simple carbs cause a bloodsugar spike followed by a crash, this can lead to an energy and mood crash. Making sure your child gets protein, fiber, or a healthy fat EVERY time they eat will help to keep their bloodsugar levels more even, and give them longer lasting energy.

Solution: Pack them protein!

Many “snack foods” are lacking protein, fiber, or healthy fat – in fact, they are lacking in nutrients in general – that is why I call things like pretzels and Goldfish “filler foods.”  They fill you up, but not for long.  Protein, fiber and healthy fats help to keep blood sugar levels from spiking and crashing – they keep your energy and moods more level. Proteins are also important building blocks for neurotransmitters – so getting protein in the lunch will help keep the bloodsugar stable, and help to boost brain function.  Here are some good ways to get protein into the lunchbox:

    Lunchable-type lunch, and you can even make them the night before if you want to.  Mary’s Gone Crackers make a good base for any cracker sandwich, cut up some nitrate-free cold meat, and organic cheese.  Add in some fresh veggies and fruit – and you have a yummy lunch.  If your child still wants a little something sweet for dessert?  See below for some healthier options.
  • Leftovers!  There is nothing better than sending leftovers in the kids lunchbox the next day. Saves time and money using leftovers.  Pizza and pasta are good cold, and so are asian-style noodles.  Leftover chili or soup is a great thing to send in a thermos!  In the fall, I love to make a big pot of my homemade chicken soup – because it is very immune-boosting to help keep them healthy during colds and flu season.

Dilemma # 7. My kids want a sweet treat in their lunchbox!

If your child likes a little something sweet in their lunchbox, but you are trying to avoid artificial colors, flavors and high fructose corn syrup.

Solution: Look for sweet treats that are made from natural sugars, and don’t have all that artificial stuff that can take away from focus & attention:

  • Fruit is always a good choice, and dried fruit is too – it’s like nature’s candy!  Sometimes, I will cut up apples, sprinkle a little cinnamon and organic sugar on them, and they are a delicious treat.  Plus the cinnamon sugar keeps the apple from browning too!
  • Barnanas – are great, they are dark-chocolate covered dehydrated banana slices – naturally sweet and delicious (they also make them plain without the chocolate). They are a high potassium delicious & healthy treat. Plus – dark chocolate was shown in a recent study to help participants perform better in math!
  • Stretch Island fruit – are made with fruit and don’t contain the artificial colors, flavors and high fructose corn syrup that many other brands use.  If your kids like those Fruit by the Foot, try Stetch Island’s FruitaBu instead.
  • Katy’s Kettle Corn – from popchips – this is a good option because it just 3 has graIMG_2784ms of sugar. If satisfies the sweet and the need to crunch all at once!
  • Homemade Cookies or try these gluten free Figgy Bars – I always think homemade is best.  You can control what goes in there!

Dilemma #8. Help! My child wants Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or Cool Ranch Doritos in her lunchbox – every day!

This is a very common one – because most kids just love those Flamin’ Hot and flavor-enriched snacks.  And the thing is – the more flavor they add to them, the more addicting they are.  So it is no wonder that kids want to eat them every day! But these are full of junk – they have several different artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, and MSG – which is an obesogen (a chemical that tells the body to store fat).  So these are definitely not good for our kids’ health, attention, focus or energy.  They are not good for their waistline either – with 160 calories and 11 grams of fat for every 28 pieces consumed.   Some schools went so far as to ban them last year.

Solution:  Just choose a better chip.

You want to avoid chips that contain MSG (which is an obesogen – tells the body to store fat), and preservatives and artificial colors (yes, you’d be amazed how many do!).  There are so many different options of better chips out there – just read the labels.  You could go with a simple ingredient list – potato, oil, salt.  Or if you want to more closely match the Flamin’ Hot chips, you will have to go with a little longer ingredient list – but one that still avoids the worst of the ingredients (MSG, preservatives, artificial colorings, and the like).  These are just better options:

  • snikiddy_packaging_291x414_hotspicy-270x385Hot & Spicy Snikiddy Baked Fries – they are gluten free, contain no MSG, no artificial colors, and have less sodium and calories than Cheetos.  Just a better option!
  • Whales Tails – are a favorite in our house – because not only are they a fun shape (like a Whale’s Tail!), they are made with GMO-free corn, and simple ingredients – none of the icky stuff you find in those other chips.  The blue corn ones also have chia seeds in them – which as we know, boost brain function.
  • Popchips – are a better alternative too – no artificial colors, msg, and also gluten free!  They have corn tortilla chips, and potato, and they have even come out with a new Kettle Corn chip – for those that like a little something sweet!

Dilemma #9: My son has sports right after school and I am worried he will get dehydrated!

Many kids are just not drinking enough water throughout the day, which can lead to chronic dehydration.  All kids should be encouraged to drink water throughout the school day.  But it is especially important for kids that head off to sports practice after school to prevent dehydration.

Solution – Plan ahead and talk to your son or daughter about staying properly hydrated during the day and their sports activities. Make sure they bring a water bottle – and are allowed to bring it into class.  Some teachers don’t encourage water bottles in class because it can lead to more bathroom breaks – but make sure your child’s teacher does not restrict bathroom breaks, because kids will then restrict their fluids throughout the day.  Encourage them to drink their waterbottle and refill it at school or at the field. I also encourage kids to carry an electrolyte replenisher in their sports bag – because if they lose a lot of fluids, they will need to replenish electrolytes with the fluids. Here are some alternatives to the sports drinks with artificial colors, flavors, that are portable – just pop them into your sports bag, and pop them into a waterbottle:

  • Ultima Replenisher is another electrolyte powder that can be added to water – it comes in several yummy flavors and is non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free and naturally sweet.
  • Coconut water is called Nature’s Gatorade for a good reason, they are a naturally good electrolyte replenisher.
  • Mamma Chia Squeeze packs – we gave these to our son before tennis, because the chia seeds help to “prehydrate” him before his workouts.  See above for more benefits of Mammachia squeeze packs!

Dilemma # 10: My child didn’t eat because he had a tummy ache…again!

Kids who frequently complain of a tummy ache could have digestive troubles like chronic constipation, or an undiagnosed food sensitivity or allergy. But another common reason for recurring stomach aches in school-aged kids is – anxiety.  Whether it is first day jitters, or worries about taking a test, or more generalized anxiety…stomach pain that is caused by anxiety is not all in their head, it is very real. And there are some things that you can do to help.

Solution: Soothe their tummies and their minds.

The gut is often referred to as “the second brain” – not only can anxiety cause an upset tummy, imbalanced gut bacteria can also cause anxiety.  So improving the health of the digestive system is critical for helping to resolve anxiety and chronic tummy troubles.

  • Probiotics: Start their morning with, or send a probiotic supplement in their lunch – probiotics boost the good bacteria in their gut, which studies show can improve digestion, and even can help to reduce anxiety.  And as a bonus – they will also boost immunity – to help prevent colds and flus. My kids love their Yum Yum probiotics in the morning.
  • Send some “Soul Foodkids57-1_0” – In addition to feeding your child’s belly, why not send a little something to feed their soul?  It might take an extra minute to write a note, but a few words of encouragement from mom or dad could mean a lot to help them get through their day. Don’t have time to write? Never fear – Say, Please has done it for you – they have created the coolest 2 sided lunch box notes – one side contains words of encouragement and the other side contains jokes, trivia, and other cool topics for the lunch table.  They make them for kids of all ages.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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