School has started again for many families, whether your children attend public or private school, or you are in a family fortunate enough to home school. And with school days comes school lunch staring us in the face again with that age-old question: “What on earth will I feed my child today?”
Finding nourishing, appealing, and economical choices may seem like a big challenge – especially something that is free of harmful substances you want your kids to avoid eating. Don’t worry, even the most spendthrift family can provide interesting and delicious meals for lunch time meals that don’t break the bank.
Sending healthy lunches for your child doesn’t have to be complicated, and there are many easy and quick solutions for sending good choices with your child each day without shuddering about what he or she is going to have for lunch.
What’s in your kitchen?
Simply make main meals you prepare during the day or evening with the idea of making enough extra for leftovers to send those items off with your children. With a little planning and preparation, you can also make modifications to those meals and make them a little different than the original meal. If you find that you don’t have leftovers because they get consumed before the next meal comes around, make extra the next time you prepare a meal and freeze or put in the refrigerator with the intention of using them the next day for lunch.
First, start by taking an assessment of what types of foods your family already eats. If you find that a lot of processed and prepared foods make it into your home, now is the time to re-think those choices and replace them with healthier ones.
Think about what meals your family eats and enjoys. You can freeze these in small containers for easy storage to heat up later when you need them. There are many foods like this you can prepare either for a dinner meal or in batches to freeze in small containers for easy storage to heat up later when you need them, and choices are pretty much endless – home-made soups, stews, chili, casseroles, leftover Mexican or Asian dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, stir-frys, roasted meats, poultry, and fish, rice and vegetables.
Do you currently use a lot of processed grains such as breads, buns, bagels, pastas, tortillas, and other similar products?
If so, consider making some or most of those meals without those foods. These products are highly processed, contain too many Omega 6s (one reason why so many people in the U.S. have inflammatory diseases like obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure), and actually contribute to loss of minerals in the body.
If you are going to include grains in your child’s lunch, it’s a good idea to do this sparingly and prepare them properly as traditional people have all over the world through soaking, sprouting, and fermenting.
If you’d like to leave out the carbohydrate components like tortillas as we often do, just add more of the main course and side items.
One example is to use leftover Mexican meals like taco meat and refried beans the next day and garnish with salsa, cheese, avocado, and vegetables such as squash and zucchini sauteed in butter with onions and garlic, salt and pepper.
Another choice would be to use home-made marinara sauce with ground beef and add parmesan cheese and spaghetti squash and green beans sauteed in butter.
Want to know more about why grains can be harmful to your child’s health? Read The truth about wheat and grains – are they good for your health?
Also, read this informative post at Wellness Mama: Are sprouted, soaked, and fermented grains healthy? – about why soaking, sprouting, and fermenting – the traditional method used by people all over the world – may not necessarily make these foods more digestible.
Meats, dairy, and other animal products
Contrary to popular belief, we need cholesterol and fat to be healthy. Foods with cholesterol and fat are high in nutrients. And kids need them even more than grownups because they are growing and developing.
If you are currently using conventional meat and dairy products, the next step is to consider how you can replace these items with more sustainable choices. Grass-fed meats. poultry, pork, lamb, and dairy products are becoming more available on the consumer market. Check with your local farmer’s market and/or farms in your area for these foods. You will want to choose animal products from animals and birds on pasture with no added hormones/antibiotics, or exposure to other toxins like pesticides or GMO (genetically-modified) feeds.
Unlike conventional animal products, animal products from sustainable sources are rich in fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, and also cholesterol and Omega 3s which support brain development, immune system, and digestive tract function. They are also abundant in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is an antioxidant and important for cardiovascular health. Because the animals and birds are out on pasture, exposed to sunlight, fresh air, and are allowed to engage in natural behaviors and are in a low-stress environment, their meat, eggs, and milk naturally contains more of those important nutrients children need for growth and development.
If you buy animal products in larger quantities and put them in your freezer, you can save money because buying these same products piece-by-piece is definitely more expensive. Find out what type of arrangements you can make with your local farmer to buy meat and other animal products in bulk. When you buy in bulk, you can also get other inexpensive but parts like bones and organ meats which can be used to make nourishing and delicious meals for your family, and allow you to stretch your food dollars more.
Fats and oils
If you are using butter substitutes, shortening, or vegetable oils like canola or soybean (think Wesson and Crisco, and other brands like Spectrum – even the “organic” variety), now’s the time to replace with real butter and other traditional fats like olive oil, sustainable palm oil, lard, tallow, and other fats from birds and animals on pasture.
Comprised of polyunsaturated fats that are fragile and go rancid when cooked, modern vegetable oils and spreads are deodorized, bleached, and chemically altered through high heat temperatures. This makes them rancid and inflammatory to the body.
They lack critical fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K2, Omega 3s, or CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) for brain, immunity, and digestive health.
Read Changing ingredients for a nutrient-dense diet for some ideas on how to get the maximum nutritional value in all your meals for your family.
Here’s a sample of some lunches my son has taken to school or eaten at home when we home-schooled:
- Taco meat made with ground beef and home-made refried beans, salsa, sour cream, and cheese (with or without tortillas – we use organic, sprouted corn)
- Chicken or beef soup made with home-made broth (including carrots, onions and celery and whatever spices you like – sage, marjoram, oregano, parsley, basil, cumin, chili powder, coriander, turmeric, anise, five spice powder, etc.) and add in any vegetables you have in the house – green beans, peas, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and squash work well. You can also add rice or potatoes, prepared in advance.
- Leftover marinara sauce made with grass-fed beef, olive oil, tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, marjoram, oregano, and rosemary (sometimes we use mushrooms and other vegetables like bell peppers and zucchini as they are easy to hide and don’t change the taste of the sauce) garnished with parmesan cheese
- Leftover chili made with grass-fed beef, pasture-raised turkey, or chicken, soaked beans of your choice, tomatoes/sauce, onions, bell peppers, home made taco seasoning w/chili powder, cumin, black or cayenne pepper (depending on how much spice your children like), sea salt, paprika, and garlic (optional). For garnish add home made sour cream, salsa, avocados, fresh tomatoes and onions, and cheese.
- Rustic baked chicken with cheese and bacon
- Steak enchiladas with home-made red sauce and sour cream
- Leftover ham, turkey, chicken or roast beef (from dinner) on real sourdough bread with cheese, home-made mayo, lettuce and tomato (or anything else your child likes)
- Leftover meats quickly sauteed in a skillet with butter or lard, vegetables, rice, beans, tomato sauce, etc.
Check out these glass containers for storing food in your refrigerator or freezer (you can also use containers you already have such as glass, ceramic, or metal for storage):
Think about what meals your family eats and enjoys. Most of these foods can be saved in small portions, either refrigerated for the next day or frozen for next week and thawed out later, heated up on the stove in minutes and placed into a thermos or other portable container for lunch. Consider eliminating plastic containers for storage as they can leach dangerous chemicals such as BPA into food.
Here are some recommendations for food and beverage containers for your child’s lunch:
Tips for getting lunch together:
- Make a list of what you need each week and stick to it.
- If you don’t have vegetables in the meal you are reheating and you want to send some in your child’s lunch, simply add them to a soup or main dish you’ve already made just by adding it into the pan when heating up.
- Heat up your child’s lunch first thing in the morning so anything new you add is sufficiently heated ready to go by the time he or she needs to leave.
- If any of these foods become dried out, add a little home made bone broth or stock, butter, olive oil, and/or lard as appropriate to “reconstitute” the meal so it is more like when you made it the first time.
- If you have cooked or other ingredients in your refrigerator and haven’t assembled anything yet, you would be surprised just how quickly you can throw together a nourishing, delicious meal in 15-20 minutes. Any leftover meats can be put in a pan with butter, olive or coconut oil, lard or tallow, and then you can add to it whatever you have on hand such as vegetables, cheese, herbs and spices, tomato sauce, beans, rice, cous cous, quinoa, cream sauces, or broth. Heat just to boiling, turn the heat down, and let simmer for 10 minutes and you’ll have a warm, nourishing meal to send in your child’s thermos.