We’re officially in the back-to-school season, and to be honest, I have no idea where the summer went!
I will also admit that pre-2020, the bane of my existence was the “no thank you table” at my eldest daughter’s school. The spirit of this table was beautiful – children could leave anything unwanted from their cafeteria lunches on this table, and other kids could take what they wanted. The challenge is that the quality of the food at this table was not great – lots of processed and overly-sugared foods. To ask a 7-year-old to exert the willpower to walk by a free table of treats like that and NOT grab something is a tall order. It’s a tall order for most adults I know! She couldn’t resist the temptation and we had the behavioral and health side-effects to deal with as a consequence.
Now, however, most schools are frowning on kids sharing food, and the “no thank you table” no longer exists. This means no more junk, sugar-laden, or other processed foods tempting her to eat things she knows don’t make her feel good.
Something we hear all the time from parents is how challenging it can be to feed their kids healthy, nourishing foods in social situations such as at school. It’s a tough balance: convenience, portability, health, and, of course, taste. Also, you don’t want your children to be ostracized for having a “weird” healthy lunch, but you also don’t want to make that an excuse for feeding them unhealthy or processed foods. I don’t believe it has to be too complicated. There’s absolutely no reason why kids can’t eat naked too. Oh, and if you think this post is only for parents, keep reading. Real, naked foods apply to all ages!
Here are five simple suggestions (plus one bonus one) for filling your child’s lunchbox with easy, naked foods.
1) Skip the juice box. No matter what the outside of that juice box says, it’s just liquid sugar. Yes, even if it’s “organic” or “not from concentrate”. What about good old-fashioned water? Or maybe some coconut water (diluted, preferably). If you must do juice, juice an orange yourself into a re-usable water bottle (yes, one single orange) and fill the rest of the bottle with water. (Of course, this applies to more than just juice. Skip the sodas, sweetened teas, etc…too!)
2) Choose fresh fruit over cookies. Yes, kids definitely like to have something sweet with their lunch, but this doesn’t mean it has to be dessert. Some fruit will do the trick, with the occasional sweet treat – ideally homemade so you are in charge of the ingredients. Make baking an afternoon activity you do together and involve them in the process! Even better, don’t include anything sweet. Save the piece of fruit for after school as a reward for having eaten all their lunch.
3) Use sliced leftover meat rather than deli meats. Deli meats contain preservatives, nitrates, and are extremely high in sodium. Some even contain gluten and sugar, usually in the form of dextrose). Your best bet is to make a little extra at dinner, slice it up and use it in a sandwich the next day. Thinly sliced grass-fed steak, chopped chicken, or a little salmon mixed with plain yogurt, lemon, some dill and sea salt make excellent and super delicious sandwich fillers.
4) Skip the chips. Instead of chips, pretzels, or crackers for snacks (all of which are highly processed, even when they’re organic or gluten-free), opt for air-popped popcorn. You can easily make this yourself and even add some flavorings to make it special. Our favorite way to enjoy popcorn is with grass-fed butter and a healthy dash of Pluck. Another alternative for something crunchy is seaweed. Crispy snack-size seaweed can be found in most stores these days. Just ensure there’s no canola oil, sugar, or unnecessary ingredients.
5) Use real foods! The key principle in all of this is to use real food options instead of their processed counterparts. Forget the “string” cheese – just slice up some good quality organic (preferably raw) cheese. Flavored yogurt pops? Nah – just use some organic plain yogurt and add your own flavor: some mashed fruit or homemade jam will do the trick. We like using a dollop of molasses. Don’t shy away from cultured veggies, either. They are such a good accompaniment to any meal and their health benefits are off the charts. We include cultured veg in both our kids’ lunches almost daily.
And for those of you who want to go the whole way – a bonus: Make your own condiments. The “final frontier” for many people in eating naked is condiments. We can wrap our minds around making dinner, but making the mustard or mayo? That’s ca-raazy! Here’s the thing: almost without exception (good quality mustard being one exception) condiments are loaded with rancid oils, excess sodium, unnecessary sweeteners, and loads of chemical preservatives and flavorings. Not so naked. But who wants to go to the lengths of making these homemade if they’re going to go bad after a week or two in the fridge? Well, I’ve got great news for you. We use a traditional technique of fermentation to preserve and nutritionally enhance any condiment – which means you can make the condiment once, and it lasts months, not weeks. Now that’s a better return on investment! Check out this very cool technique here.
What’s in your naked lunchbox?
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Thanks for the great ideas! So I love the convenience and portability of yogurt pops in the little skinny sleeve. That’s my little one’s favorite “treat.” I want to follow your tip and make them myself, but how to make them small and skinny?
I LOVE this post! In my view, this is one of the most valuable posts that any parent (or person wanting to be a parent) can read. Who’s not looking for easy and healthy alternatives for their kids! So, so valuable. Yay 🙂
Fantastic list and yes! Processed condiments are nightmarish. Love your yogurt pops idea – a great after school snack.
Everything is smoother in my house when my kids are involved in the meal planning process (I’ve seen firsthand how using LaLa Lunchbox and LaLa Breakfast encourages kids to make healthy, varied choices).
Thanks again and best of luck with back to school!