4 Steps for Packing Lunch is a simple solution with a free printable for teaching your child how to pack a healthy and balanced school lunch. Created by a registered dietitian and mom.
Packing Their Own School Lunch
Are you the type of parent that likes to pack your child’s lunch? Or do you prefer to let them do it themselves? There is no right answer to this question. If you like to pack their lunch for them, all the power to you. If you hate packing your child’s lunch and want them to do it themselves, I totally get it!
This year I have five of my six children in school. Each of them with a different set of food preferences. Because of this, I much prefer for them to pack their own lunch! The only problem is, when left completely on their own, their lunches end up being mostly composed of crackers and goldfish. While I have nothing against crackers and goldfish, the lack of other foods categories leads to cranky children who are always hungry. Nobody wants this!
4 Steps for Packing Lunch Printable
This summer I spent a lot of time pondering ways to encourage my children to pack more balanced school lunches. I knew I wanted to create a simple form to help them choose foods from several key food categories. One that allowed for the flexibility to be changed with the foods we have on hand. One that could guide my children in independently choosing the foods they want while simultaneously meeting their nutritional needs. From all that pondering, The 4 Steps for Packing Lunch Printable was born.
We’ve been using it for about a week now, and its been amazing!! It was especially handy for me when I planned our weekly menu and grocery list. I looked at each category, saw what categories of foods we needed more of, then added them to the grocery list.
4 Steps for Packing Lunch Categories
When creating the categories for them to choose from, I kept in mind both the micro and macronutrient needs of children. Especially the ones they typically don’t think of when packing their lunch. This includes protein, fiber, fat, and color (fruits and vegetables).
Protein is an essential macronutrient that our bodies need every single day. It helps build and repair every tissue and cell in your body! It is also crucial for the enzymes and hormones that keep your body functioning properly.
In addition to these amazing roles, protein also provides energy for you body. When you include protein in the meals and snacks you eat, it also helps you feel more satisfied and full longer.
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate or lignin. It helps you stay full longer, keeps your bowels healthy and strong, prevents constipation, lowers your risk of developing heart disease and reduces your chances of developing or dying from some types of cancer.
I wrote a blog post all about fiber and the amazing things it does for your body. You can find that article here.
Fiber is found in grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits and vegetables. I focus on the putting the grain, nut, seed, and legume food sources of fiber in this “fiber” category and save fruits and vegetables for the “color” category. This encourages them to eat a greater variety of food and more adequate amounts of fiber in their diet.
Fat is also an essential macronutrient that our bodies need every day. It is especially important for young children whose brains are still growing and developing. In addition to brain development, fat helps your body absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It also provides energy for your body.
There are two main types of fat. Saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Saturated fat if found mostly in animal products (butter, meat, cheese..) and in processed foods (french fries, packaged treats, doughnuts…). Our bodies need some saturated fat, but we often get more than we need.
Unsaturated fats are found mostly in seafoods, plant foods and eggs. These types of fats are associated with improved health and disease prevention.
I like to include mostly unsaturated fat food sources in the “fat” category to encourage my children to get more of them.
Foods like cheese and full fat yogurt have saturated fats in them, but also offer unsaturated fats and other nutrients. For these reasons (and the fact that my kids love them), I like to include them on the fat list as well.
The “color” category includes all the beautifully colored fruits and vegetables (including white). Phytonutrients are what give these fruits and veggies their lovely color. Theses phytonutrients do a lot of amazing things for your body including keeping your heart healthy and fighting off cancer. Each of the different colors found in fruits and vegetables are different phytonutrients. Each color of phytonutrient offers unique benefits for your body. Eating a variety of colors is a great way to get your body all of the amazing benefits of these phytonutrients.
How to fill out your form
- Print your free printable form. I printed mine on card stock paper to make it sturdier.
- Make your form reusable by laminating it, placing it in a glass frame or putting it in a clear protector sheet. I chose to laminate mine so I could hang it on my fridge. You can also just write directly on the paper with a pencil if you want to skip this step.
- Write down what foods you have available in each category with a wet erase marker (not a dry erase marker). I used these markers, and they work great! I have also used these wet erase markers in the past and like them as well. You can reference the third page of the printable for ideas on what foods fall into each category.
- Encourage your child to choose at least one food from each of the categories when they are packing their lunch.
- When foods in each category run out, erase them. When you buy or make new foods, add them to the category (categories) they are in.
Tips for Guiding your Children
- Teach your child to pick at least one food from each category when they pack their lunch. It’s okay if they want more than one food from the same category.
- Some foods will be part of multiple categories. Teach your child that they can count these foods for all of the categories they fall into if they want.
- The “color” category should be reserved for fruits and vegetables only. The goal is to help your child eat more of these foods. I encourage my kids to choose both a fruit and a vegetable from this category.
- Don’t force your child to take something from a category if they don’t want to. The goal of this system is to help your child understand how to plan a balanced meal all on their own.
- Talk to your child about foods they like to have in each category. They’ll feel more excited about it, if they are part of the planning process.
- Try to offer both familiar foods and new ones. They will be more likely to try a new food if they have familiar foods to pair with it.
To get your free printable of the 4 Steps for Packing Lunch you can click here or on the image below! Enjoy!!