05 FEB 2022
Picture this – it’s after school, your child has come home and dropped their lunch box on the kitchen counter before running up to their room to have some much-needed chill time before they begin studying for tomorrow’s science assessment. You open the lunch box, only to find the same banana returned home, as well as a candy bar wrapper you know was not in there the night before. Not ideal eating habits for your growing middle schooler.
How can you pack a lunchbox that will excite your child AND meet their nutritional needs? Here are some of our top tips for how to pack satisfying, healthy lunch boxes for middle school students:
1) Balance Macronutrients – Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are the three macronutrients and ensuring all three come from healthy sources is a big step to making sure your child’s lunch is well balanced. If your child eats meat, try to stick to lean, fresh sources such as chicken, turkey, and fish rather than bologna or other fatty, processed options. Ensure carbohydrates come from whole grains by going with brown bread over white bread, using brown rice when possible, and picking cereal bars that contain oats, fruits, and nuts (providing no allergies) over those with artificial flavors.
2) Hydrate Healthily – Always ensure your child is sent to school with a water bottle that can be refilled during the school day. Investing in a bottle such as the HydraFlask is worth every penny as such bottles contain technology that will keep the drink cold all day. Should your middle schooler desire different beverages, try to avoid additional calories from sugar and fake coloring. Choose fresh juice, drinkable low-fat yogurt, brew your own iced tea at home and sweeten using a bit of honey, or simply add a few slices of citrus fruits, strawberries, or cucumbers into your child’s water bottle to add some flavor.
3) Choose Fresh Whenever Possible - A good rule of thumb here is to have both fresh fruits and fresh vegetables in your child’s lunchbox on a daily basis. Try to rotate what you give your child on a daily basis to prevent them from being bored, exposing them to different foods, and ensuring that they are receiving a complete nutritional profile.
4) Be Strategic About “Treats” – While some schools outright forbid serving chips, chocolate, and/or candy bars, we at Crimson Rise strongly encourage you to have an open discussion with your child about the consumption of such items in a way that suits your household’s habits.
Whether the rule is “1 serving of something after dinner” or “you can pack 1 small bag of chips in the lunch box, but it can only be eaten after you have eaten your fresh fruit and sandwich,” try to decide upon an agreement with your child that encourages a lifestyle of moderation. This will help instill self-discipline that will go a long way towards your child maintaining healthy eating habits once they go to university.
5) Understand Your Child’s Specific Needs – Allergic to peanuts? Need an extra sandwich and some chocolate milk to help get through football practice? Make sure you get regular feedback from your child about whether they had enough food to sustain themselves through the school day. Ask your child when they come home as to why they did not eat the grapes that were packed, or if they immediately open the fridge as soon as they get home, if they had an adequate amount of food in their lunch bag.
6) Go Hybrid Where Appropriate – I remember a time when my teenage brother was on the soccer team, armed with an appetite that no lunchbox could fill. Between school and staying late for practice, there simply was no way multiple sandwiches and their respective ice packs would fit inside that cooler! As such, the perfect balance turned out to be our mother packing him his snack and extra food for his games and practices, while he also got lunch money to purchase his main meal at the school. Offering your child a chance to mix and match in a way that suits your family needs may save everyone a headache or two!
7) Strive to Be Local and Seasonal – Given inflation’s effects on household budgets, shopping seasonally may help cut your family’s grocery bills. Try to select fruit which is readily available, make salads from vegetables that are seasonal, etc. Seasonal shopping also encourages you and your child to reflect upon the different foods available at different times of the year; this is useful knowledge for people of all ages. Additionally, eating seasonal fruits and vegetables is beneficial for both the environment and local farmers.
8) A Little Note Goes a Long Way – While packing the right food in your child’s lunchbox is important, adding a personal touch can go also a long way. Writing a positive, encouraging, and message on a post-it note to go into your child’s lunch box can be a great way of giving them the positive reinforcement to get through a challenging day. I still recall seeing a “May the Force be with you!” note from my mother on the day of my first algebra exam in grade 8 that were just the words my Star Wars-obsessed middle school self needed in order to gather the confidence to ace that assessment!
9) Use the Opportunity to Teach Your Child a Life-Long Skill – As a parent, the day will come when you see your child off to college and wonder how they will fend for themselves if they do not like the dorm food at their chosen university. As with all things college-related, starting early is the key! Consider making school lunches a bonding activity where your middleschooler can learn some basic culinary skills and explore their preferences with food.
By following these simple yet meaningful tips, we hope you are equipped with a more thorough knowledge of how to build your middle schooler’s daily lunch box in a way that is personal, seasonally appropriate, and nutritionally sound. Be open to feedback from child about their likes and dislikes, and as always, consider this another opportunity for some life-long learning to take place on your child’s behalf!
Your friendly neighbourhood Rise blogger,
Learn more about Crimson Rise’s strategic mentorship, academic support, and extracurricular coaching for young students, and request a free consultation on your child’s journey!