The summer flew by, and you know what that means… It’s time to go back to school and back to school lunches. Let’s be honest here, the school cafeteria does not have your back on nutrition. It’s up to us as parents to make sure our kids are eating well.
As an Ayurvedic chef, former school board member, and father, healthier school lunches are one of my passions. Here are a few simple tips that you and your family can use to put school lunch into your own – healthier – hands.
1. Plan ahead.
In order to run a high-functioning kitchen, you have to think several meals ahead. The easiest way to do this is by making a written meal plan for the family each week. This way you can shop accordingly without wandering the aisles of the grocery store waiting for inspiration to strike.
Your weekly meal plan becomes your road map to what needs to be prepped the night before, so you’re ready when the school bus arrives. Stick to your food plan and the whole family will be happier and healthier.
2. Step away from the sandwich.
How many sandwiches did you eat when you were a kid? Probably too many, at least from an Ayurvedic perspective. Bread made with yeast aggravates pitta and can throw our whole digestive tract out of balance. Many lunchmeats are high in sodium and nitrates. And mixing meat and cheese together can constipate little colons, as well as adult ones.
Be creative with lunches. Quinoa salad, homemade hummus, fresh flatbread – there are so many ways to think beyond the sandwich.
3. Make meal planning a family affair.
Bring the whole family together to create the weekly meal plan. Talking about what everyone wants will inspire the kids to explore food and take some ownership of what they will be eating. They are much more likely to eat it and love it when they had a hand in planning.
But don’t make this just about the kids – use the opportunity to plan everyone’s lunches. When your kids see you eating with the same guidelines you ask them to follow, they’ll be more likely to respond positively. Plus your bellies and wallets will thank you.
4. Start a lunch club.
Making lunch for the kids every day can feel like a chore. Other families are dealing with the same problem – so collaborate. Find four or five committed families in the area and start a lunch club. It’s simple; one family makes lunch for all the kids on one day and then takes the week off.
If you are organized and plan ahead, it’s easier to make several lunches once a week instead of every day. Just be sure to set some ground rules about food quality and menu options.
5. Invest in your kitchen.
Now that you are branching out from sandwiches, get the equipment to make cooking easier. Here is my list of what you need to make a healthier school lunch:
Stainless steel pressure cooker: This is one piece of equipment every Ayurvedic kitchen should have. Modern versions are safe and reliable and key to cooking healthy grains and legumes in minutes (hello, homemade hummus!).
Rice cooker or crockpot: Simple one-pot meals are fantastic for when the weather gets cooler. Add all your ingredients the night before and in the morning you’ll have a yummy stew, soup, or kitchari.
A sharp chef’s knife: Fresh vegetables should make up about 40% of every meal. To have as much prana as possible, chop them fresh yourself instead of buying pre-cut. Having a sharp chef's knife will allow you to make short work of any vegetable prep.
Cast iron griddle: A great replacement for yeasted sandwich bread is a fresh flatbread, called roti in India. Roti can be made in a matter of minutes with a hot cast iron griddle. Just use organic, non-GMO flour and you’ve got an unbeatable healthy option to add to your kids’ meals. Be careful, once you start eating bread fresh off the griddle, you’ll never be able to go back to plain old sandwich bread.
Insulated lunch box: A multi-compartment, insulated stainless steel lunch box will give you many more options for lunch. Soups, dhals, and stews, stay warm, while salads, veggies, and hummus stay cool. Warm soup on a chilly December afternoon? Your kids will thank you (even if they don’t actually say it).
Let’s face it – our kids are not going to lead the way in asking for healthier options for lunch. It’s up to us to step up and show them how fun and creative it can be to make a healthy meal every day. Just use the tips above to make school lunch simple and fun.
How do you make healthier school lunches? Please share in the comments below!