In honor of American Heart Month, we’ve been covering some matters of the heart, including how to promote heart health in our children. Today, we’re talking about packing heart-healthy lunches to fuel their minds, bodies, and spirits all throughout the school day.
Check out these 10 ingredients to rotate through your child’s lunchbox to keep their tickers in tip-top shape.
Fruits and Veggies
An absolute must for a heart-healthy meal, fruits and veggies should take up the most tummy space.
There really is truth to the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are high in fiber and vitamin C and contain lots of potassium, too. And they taste great and fulfill that need for something crunchy and sweet.
Bonus tips: Pre-sliced apples are perfect for little hands. To make lunch prep a breeze, invest in an apple slicer ($5-10 online and in various stores). Put apple slices in a baggie or reusable container with some lemon or lime juice to keep them tasting fresh and from turning brown.
Another good one for the lunchbox is the banana. Like apples, they have lots of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. Unlike the apple, you can have a good bit of fun pretending to be a monkey while you munch your lunch.
Lower in calories than apples and bananas, oranges are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They’re also a good alternative for kids who prefer their fruit sliced and peeled for them. Unlike apples and bananas, they don’t turn that “icky” brown color when sliced before serving.
Higher in vitamin C than a banana and more fiber and potassium than an apple, pears are another crunchy, sweet alternative for the healthy lunchbox crowd. Pears are also slightly softer and easier to chew than apples, which can be a mouth-pleaser for younger children.
These little orange beauties are chockablock full of vitamin A and are fun to eat both plain and with a healthy dip (see recipe below!). Skip the chips and dip these babies! Crunchy, sweet, and oh-so-good for you, too.
Raw, one cup of broccoli florets contains almost as much vitamin C as an orange. If your kids prefer cooked broccoli, lightly steam the florets and then chill them in the fridge. Steaming takes away some of the bite of raw broccoli and makes it easier for picky eaters to get their much-needed greens.
Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
Full of vitamin C and really fun to pop in your mouth, tiny tomatoes make another excellent lunchbox add. Pair them up with a tasty yogurt dip and you double the fun and the taste.
Protein and Fat
Two very important nutrients to pack in the lunchbox are protein and fat. While fat in general doesn’t have the best reputation, healthy amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are integral to a heart-healthy diet. Try these ingredients:
No need to go overboard, but a serving-sized wedge of a tasty low-fat cheese gives your child protein, calcium, and a yummy lunch all in one.
Skip the overly processed lunchmeats and go for heart-healthy tuna instead, which offers protein and the healthy fats mentioned above. If your child isn’t a fan of fish, choose the least-processed lunch meats possible or bake and slice free-range chicken and turkey breasts for delicious homemade sandwiches.
Tip: Choose only 100% whole grain bread made with the least ingredients possible. Skip brands that include extra sugar in their recipe, or go all-in and make your own bread.
Unsalted and/or Raw Nuts and Seeds
Whether it’s a serving of sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, or other wonderful crunchies, nuts and seeds add protein, healthy fats and variety to any school lunch box. Remember those apples, bananas, and pears from above? Wholesome peanut butter (the only ingredient you need is peanuts!) with a sprinkle of cinnamon makes for a tasty treat.
We can’t forget the benefits of wholesome whole grains! Avoid processed flour products and go for 100% whole grain items that maintain the healthy components of the grain.
Forget the high-fat, high-sodium chips, pretzels, and crackers. Pack yummy, crunchy homemade breadsticks instead. (If following this recipe, skip the all-purpose flour and use 100% whole wheat only. Choose a whole wheat baking flour, which will maintain a lighter, more pleasing texture.) Thick and chewy or thin and crispy, the choice is yours. Flavor them with herbs, garlic and onion, cinnamon, fruit—anything your kids like. Some homemade tomato sauce provides a yummy and heart-healthy dip on the side.
Brown Rice, Quinoa, or Oatmeal
These wholesome whole grains can be flavored any way you like them and fill up little tummies with fiber that keeps them energized all day long.
Healthy Yogurt Dip Recipe
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt like Fage (wholesome Greek yogurt has no extra sugar and lots of healthy protein)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion
- 3 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or use dried dill, but less)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
It’s so easy—just mix everything in a small bowl and chill overnight. Store the dip in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Giving your kids healthy, appetizing choices for their lunchboxes ensures that they’re receiving support for healthy eating habits even when they are away from home. Some other good-for-you lunch choices are hard-boiled eggs, unsalted popcorn, and raisins/other no-sugar-added dried fruits.
And don’t forget to help quench little thirsts. Good choices for a reusable water bottle are unsweetened juice, water, and milk (add a little wholesome cocoa powder and vanilla extract for a chocolaty treat).
Lunch time doesn’t have to be boring, unhealthy, or stick to the same old routine. Give your kids a heart-healthy treasure chest of goodies they’ll be excited to munch on every day. While you’re at it, pack these wholesome ingredients in your own lunch, too!