Crafting a Healthy Lunchbox

By Laura Fuentes | August 30, 2015
Kitchen gadgets and meal planning
Photo courtesy of Fair Winds Press, 2014

The recipes you’ll find in [the pages of Laura Fuentes’ book, The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches on the Planet] are health-focused and consciously crafted…you’ll find that these lunchboxes contain the following elements:

• Protein-rich foods
• Carbohydrates or starches
• An assortment of color
• Fruit and vegetables
• Water

Let’s quickly cover each of these categories and how/why I find them important. Rest assured, the bottom line here is filling up your child (and mine!) with the best balance of health and taste as possible!

Protein-Rich Foods
Foods high in protein are vital for our kid’s growth and brain development. Protein doesn’t always have to come from an animal source. In fact, in this book, I have many vegetarian protein-rich lunches, such as the Honey Bee Sandwich (page 51), Hummus Avocado Sandwich (page 52), Hummus Monster (page 75), Lunchbox Falafels (page 115), and the Southwest Quinoa (page 157).

Carbohydrates provide our kids with a steady stream of energy to help their sugar levels stay balanced. Whole-grain carbohydrates are best, so I suggest you fill your pantry with an assortment of them. Whole grains also contain fiber, something kids (and adults) often don’t get enough of in their diets.

Note that the more processed the food, the less original whole grains, fiber, and nutrients it will contain (many of these are added in during processing but tend to lack real nutrition).

An Assortment of Color
Kids love rainbows. I am a firm believer that a lunch that is built on a variety of foods will have lots of color and kid appeal. When kids eat their homemade lunch, that’s success in my book.

Fruits and Vegetables
We’ve all heard the daily recommendation to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables, but perhaps not everyone realizes how many different ways there are to get them in! 

Fruits and vegetables are a great fresh source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. While it’s okay to supplement our kids’ diets with a multivitamin, you’re much better off incorporating more of those nutrients through fresh foods.

If your child is a picky eater and will only eat one or two types of fruits or vegetables, don’t give yourself a hard time. Serve those fresh and incorporate new ones through the recipes from this book! Smoothies, for example, are the perfect vessel to add more fruit, and quiches, frittatas, and tomato sauce are all ideal places to sneak in more veggies. Don’t worry; I’ve got you fully covered in this book.

Every day, I send my kids with a stainless steel thermos filled with fresh, cool water. On occasion, I add a spoonful or two of 100 percent pomegranate juice or apple cider for added flavor. In winter, I like to add my vitamin C cubes for a little added immunity boost.

A Few Other Items
This isn’t a low-salt, low-fat, low-carb, low-everything cookbook—this is a fresh-food-made-of-real-ingredients type of cookbook. That said, I am mindful of keeping everything in moderation (salt, sugar, and fat included) and will expand a bit more on that here.

Sadly, many kids are eating far more salt in their diet than recommended. This is primarily because of processed foods, where high levels of sodium often hide. Foods labeled “reduced sodium” contain at least 25 percent less than the original version, so while they may be a bit healthier, they’re not necessarily so.

When you can, opt for fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned, which may contain added salt. If you use canned beans, be sure to rinse them before consuming them. With the exception of baking, you can usually reduce the amount of salt called for in recipes (if you’re strict about a low-sodium diet) and still yield good results.

Like salt, sugar is added to processed foods in many different forms. It’s also often found in low-fat or reduced-fat versions of many foods, where the sugar content has often been increased to make up for the fat/flavor taken out (a slippery slope to be sure).

It’s easy to say no to sodas, but oftentimes we forget that a few glasses of juice, a slice of cake, and sugary yogurts can add up too. The good news is that when you begin to rely on fresh foods to build your child’s lunch and keep treats to a minimum, you help control sugar intake and keep it in moderation.

Try to make your own Rainbow Fruit Cups instead of buying those with fruit soaked in sugary syrup. When you can, opt for making your own baked goods and treats, because these often have less sugar per serving than the packaged version.

Kids need some fats in their diet for optimal health, which is why I suggest adding good fats into your diet whenever possible. Most of these good fats come from good-for-you foods such as avocados, nuts, and seeds, and certain oils, such as coconut oil and olive oil.

Whenever possible, I opt for the real thing when cooking and baking, because many of the alternatives have a long list of unidentifiable ingredients or are processed foods in disguise.

Article excerpted courtesy of Fair Winds Press, 2014