Preparing your children for learning starts with proper fueling, and that means ensuring that your kids are eating healthy meals.
"A hungry child cannot learn," said Kevin Ponce, Oklahoma City Public Schools Nutrition Services Director.
The most reliable option for your student is to eat school meals, which will be free for the 2017-18 school year across Oklahoma City Public Schools. However, there are times when brown-bagging it will be best: for people with special diets, allergies or health issues, Ponce explained.
Sometimes, however, kiddos just don't like what's on the menu that day. Finding something your child will eat is key to maximizing both your child's health and your grocery dollar.
Ponce advised parents start with the five components: whole grains, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy.
"Ensure to have fruits and vegetables. Buying seasonal fruits and vegetables is one way to save some money," Ponce said.
Whole grain foods could include a bread, and while proteins could include a lean meat, that might not be an ideal choice, Ponce said. For children who don't have peanut allergies, peanut butter is a good protein option as are legumes and beans. Low-fat dairy such as cheese have a good amount of protein as well.
Katie Kimball is a mother of four from Michigan, and a former teacher. These days she runs a website called kitchenstewardship.com, whose stated purpose is to help families get the most out of meal time with real food and tips for sustainable living. She agrees with Ponce's suggestion to start with fruits and vegetables, and she suggested coming up with a standby that doesn't require a lot of thought. Kimball's is homemade yogurt.
She also recommended that parents ask their kids to bring everything, their lunch box and food containers, home every day.
"That way parents know what the kids like and don't like and the amount they can realistically eat, which improves future packing," Kimball said.
Kimball's website has stories dedicated to packing lunches with real food and packing healthy lunches to go.
Here are some other tips for packing quick, healthy lunches for your children:
1. Get your children involved. That could mean asking them to help pack their lunches, or it could be something more creative such as setting up a lunch-food taste test where they try different foods and provide input on what they're likely to eat.
2. Use reusable containers. Let your kids personalize their lunch with superhero lunch boxes and containers, but be sure to send microwave-safe containers as some schools have microwaves students can use.
3. Create a rotating meal plan. Nobody likes to eat the same thing day-in, day-out. Put together a menu that keeps your child's plate and appetite fresh, and spice it up with some ideas for healthful treats along the way.
4. Look beyond the sandwich. Buy a reusable lunch tray and pack it with items like hard-boiled eggs, veggies, veggie dip, potato salad, mac-and-cheese, you name it! However, if you're packing anything perishable, you should know when your child will be eating as not everything, such as milk, will keep for several hours.
5. Be aware of classroom allergies. Just because your child isn't allergic to peanuts, for example, doesn't mean that it won't impact other students. Even residue of peanut butter smudged on a table, for example, could affect others with peanut allergies. The advice here is to ask your teacher about any allergies your child's classmates have and take precautions accordingly.
6. Be aware of school rules. Check with your child's school for any specific food restrictions. For example, some schools won't allow you to send a Snickers bar with your child's lunch.