School Lunch Box Upgrades
We all want the best for our kids and naturally that includes their health. But with kids especially, the road to good health and simple holistic foods can be quite bumpy. There are simply too many commercial temptations coupled with peer pressure. What child wants to be the uncool kid with the kale chips in their lunchbox?
So even though kale chips may be far off for you and your child, there are many ways to elevate or upgrade your child’s existing lunch box staples:
Use whole grain, freshly baked bread. As a general rule, bread belongs to the “processed foods” category and contains gluten (which is very difficult to digest and could lead to digestive issues and sensitivities) and so is better avoided. However, over the years, I have come to realize that it is challenging for mothers to build a child’s school lunch without a sandwich–not impossible-just challenging. And so the next best option becomes to “upgrade” the type of bread used; reduce the frequency and/or substitute with a quality gluten-free bread. Commercially produced bread, even whole wheat or whole grain, is really no different than white bread in terms of how it is metabolized in the body. They both turn into sugar that spikes insulin levels. However, by using a freshly baked loaf from an artisan baker or from home, you are avoiding additives, stabilizers, and preservatives. You will notice how a fresh loaf will never last as long as a commercially processed one.
Use tuna canned in BPA-free cans (check labels). Also, try to choose tuna that is “light” as opposed to “white.” Light tuna tends to have less mercury than white. Skipjack tuna is considered to have the smallest amount of mercury. Limit tuna consumption to no more than 12oz or 1/3kg per week. Make your own homemade mayonnaise to go with it.
Give your child fresh juices or just plain water. Canned fruit juices, even the ones that say “sugar free” are nothing more than diluted, preserved, additive-laden liquids. And the fact that you can’t see what’s in the box is the biggest indicator to always avoid eating or drinking what’s inside. This one is a little tricky though because fresh fruit juices don’t necessarily keep very well in a lunchbox (another difference between fresh and canned). I have tried to give my son fresh green juice in an airtight bottle but he came home and said it “smelled.” I tried again with simple freshly squeezed apple juice and his reaction was the same. I think this is probably due to the fact that the juices are not refrigerated so they spoiled. So now he only takes water to school. I give him fresh juices in the morning before school or after school as a snack. This wasn’t easy. He would return home and ask me why he was the only one without a canned juice. Slowly I explained to him that it’s not healthy and that we make our own juice because we get to choose our ingredients and it’s more fun. It took some time but it is the norm now. I do occasionally (2-3 times per year) send a canned juice.
Give your child plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, tangerines, strawberries, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, whatever is in season, pile it on. You can never give them enough.
Give them a homemade treat. Homemade cookies or cakes are not loaded with artificial coloring, trans fats or high fructose corn syrup. Try this yummy dessert recipe.
Try different sandwich fillings
Sliced apple on top of almond butter or homemade nutella.
Egg salad: boiled eggs (organic, free range eggs are best), celery, onions, mustard, mayonnaise (homemade whenever possible).
Mash an avocado and sprinkle it with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, add a tomato or if you have time, make a guacamole spread. This can be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for later use.
Make a batch of grilled chicken or turkey breasts or roast beef instead of deli meats/cold cuts. Slice the chicken, turkey or roast beef thinly and freeze them in portions in the freezer for later use. Try this recipe here.
Make homemade Nutella and nut butters. Nutella contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated trans fats which contain alot of unnecessary and toxic sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup (more on that later).
Homemade nut butters and homemade nutella
2-4 cups raw almonds or cashews or hazelnuts or even a mix!
1-2 teaspoons raw honey
Note: I don’t recommend peanuts. They are high on the allergen list and because of the way they are grown underground and harvested, tend to have a type of mold called aflatoxin that can be carcinogenic (cancer causing).
The size of your food processor will determine how many cups of almonds you can grind at the same time-the average food processor will take 3 cups.
Add the almonds to your food processor, with the “s” shaped blade and slowly turn the power up to “high”. Turning almonds into almond butter will take more time than you think and you might feel like you’re doing something wrong initially. But what happens is the almonds go through a few phases.
The first phase they crumble-that takes about 2 minutes; then they start to get a bit pasty – that’s another 5 minutes or so; and finally the almonds release their oil and it gets creamy—that takes another 5-10 minutes or so. So you’re looking at a total of 10-20 minutes depending on the quantity and quality of the almonds as well as the strength of your processor. Be sure the lid of the processor is secured tightly and plan on scraping down the sides frequently.
Once it becomes creamy, you can add 1-2 teaspoons of raw honey to sweeten it.
To make homemade Nutella
Follow the same process as before. Once the hazelnuts become creamy, add in 3 TBS (or more if you like it really chocolatey) of dairy free and sugar free cocoa powder-Hershey’s has a good one. To sweeten it, add in 2-3 TBS of raw honey (again, if you need it sweeter, add in a bit more). You need more honey when you add the bitter dark chocolate.
You can also make chocolate almond and cashew butter this way too!
Deli meats/sausages/hot dogs. They are made of processed meat which means you really don’t know what kind of meat is actually being used, and they are loaded with cholesterol-raising saturated fat; sodium; and cancer-linked sodium nitrite. See above for other options.
Packaged cookies/cakes/muffins/brownies/chips. Even if every kid in your child’s class does. Again, these are filled with trans fats, which give them their long shelf life. More alarmingly, however, they are filled with high fructose corn syrup which is a fancy name for sugar and toxic genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in disguise. If high fructose corn syrup is on the label, don’t buy it.
Sugary dairy products such as flavored yoghurt, yoghurt drinks or flavored milk. The little benefit these products may provide is far outweighed by the harmful effects of the hormones in the dairy itself and the incredible amount of added sugar, additives and artificial flavors. If you must give your child dairy, make it plain yoghurt or milk instead.
I am not implying that this will be an easy process. Kids are very picky eaters by nature and that can be quite problematic. But, they don’t know any better. It’s up to you to make the healthy decision for them and to implement it day by day until it becomes a habit. You play an important role as guide and coach for your children as they make choices about eating.
By upgrading ingredients they are already familiar with one at a time, the process becomes that much easier. Take one or two ingredients that you can improve and implement that. Once you succeed in making that change you can add another healthy food to the mix and so on.
Let me know how it goes!