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Packing Healthy School Lunches {Part 2}: Interview with a Dietitian

Packing Healthy School Lunches - Interview with a Dietitian

Previously, in Packing Healthy School Lunches {Part 1}: Ideas & Time Saving Tips, we talked about what to pack in a school lunch as well as some time saving tricks to make your life a little easier. Since we’re on the topic of school lunches, I would like to share some thoughts from Megan McNamee, MPH, RDN, CLT who is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in maternal child health, food sensitivities, and disordered eating. Furthermore, she and her feeding therapist partner own Feeding Littles, an online education company that helps parents learn from top feeding experts without leaving home or spending a fortune. Their online toddler feeding course is an essential resource for parents looking to reverse picky eating or those wanting to prevent feeding problems before they begin. Megan lives in North Scottsdale with her husband, two daughters (3 years and 11 months), and two crazy dogs.

Megan McNamee, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Interview with a Dietitian – Packing Healthy School Lunches:

What are some ways to keep cold food cold when a refrigerator isn’t available?

A quality lunch box is key. Many lunch boxes, like PlanetBox and Bentgo, have custom ice packs that keep food cold for up to eight hours. In addition, many moms are loving the OmieBox, which keeps hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

What are some good alternatives to the classic PB&J sandwich, especially in a nut-free school?

  • Sunbutter is similar to peanut butter
  • Use smashed fruit or applesauce instead of jelly
  • Whole grain tortilla with sunbutter and banana rolled up and sliced “sushi” style
  • Cream cheese and strawberries on whole grain

What are some easy protein options for a no-meat school?

  • Whole Greek yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Hummus
  • Beans of any type
  • Lentils (pre-cooked option at Trader Joes)
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Protein pancakes (3 eggs + 2 bananas + 1/2 cup oat flour for the whole batch)

What are your best time saving tricks for packing lunches?

  • Make it the night before and use leftovers from dinner
  • Keep it simple – pack a protein source, a veggie, a fruit, and a starch if desired
  • Buy healthy convenience foods – pre-sliced apples, guacamole, fruit cups packed in light juice, freeze dried peas, and sliced cheddar cheese so you always have healthy food to grab straight from the fridge

What are some tricks to stretch your dollar as far as healthily possible when buying lunch food?

  • Take advantage of frozen and canned or jarred foods, especially for produce that’s not currently in season.
  • Frozen peas are great in a school lunch, as they’ll thaw by lunchtime and stay cold.
  • In addition, jarred peaches, drained and diced, work well mixed with cottage cheese or yogurt.
  • Rinse off canned beans to add to whole wheat or quinoa pasta, diced tomatoes, sliced olives, cut up cheese, and Italian dressing – this salad will last a few meals and can be a hit for the whole family.

What would you do if you heard your child was swapping their healthy hummus for a pudding cup?

Try to keep the focus off the “healthfulness” of the food and talk to your child about why they wanted to make a swap. When we make a food seem “good” or “bad,” we unintentionally teach kids that they’re good or bad for eating said food. Ask your child if they want to help with grocery shopping or food prep. Don’t hesitate to throw some dark chocolate chips or a cookie in their lunch every so often. Perfection when it comes to food isn’t healthy for anyone, especially children.

As a mom and dietitian, what do you pack in your kiddo’s lunchbox?

I always pack a protein option (not necessarily animal-based), a veggie, a fruit, and sometimes a starch like Dave’s Killer Bread or leftover sweet potato “fries.” Favorites include:

  • Smashed raspberry and almond butter sandwich on whole grain with carrots, hummus and a cheese stick
  • Cut up chicken sausage + cubed Kerrygold cheese + snap peas + guacamole cup (Costco) + 2 cuties
  • Whole Greek yogurt (mix in honey, chia seeds, vanilla, mini chocolate chips and blueberries) + lentils chips from Trader Joe’s + freeze dried peas

Many of my lunch ideas can be found on Instagram or Facebook. Search #feedinglittleslunches. Join our online community! Need more help? Check out our online toddler course, which has helped thousands of parents take back mealtime! Use code: SCOTTSDALEMOMS

Customization and variety are key, whether it’s your child’s dietary restrictions and preferences or the school’s rules.

What are your go-to lunch box ideas?

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