Determining the best foods to pack in kids’ school lunches may be confusing for time-crunched shoppers. Luckily, as parents and kids gear up to go back to school, this is a great time for retailers to stand out as a valuable resource. What if your store offered busy parents a standard guide—in essence, a building permit for kids’ lunches? If you did, it might start with this checklist I’ve put together.
- Minimally processed
Here’s why each is so important.
Just like a house, a lunch is only as good as its foundation. Minimally processed food is key—no more Lunchables or even their natural counterparts. Kids need to eat whole, fresh foods that don’t include hidden sodium, sugars and artificial dyes.
If minimally processed food is the foundation, shoppers should think of protein as the frame of the house. Protein is essential for building muscle, recovering from and fighting illnesses, and maintaining stamina—important for kids engaged in extracurricular activities.
Nitrate-free lunch meats, hard-boiled eggs and organic cheeses are fabulous options, but retailers should also point parents toward non-animal protein sources. Increasingly, children are experimenting with vegan and vegetarian diets, and without careful menu planning, it’s easy for younger eaters to overload on carbs and forget the protein. I like sprouted-grain bread with almond butter. For parents with adventurous eaters, you may even suggest lentils, rice and veggies. The key is to stress beans, nuts and legumes as non-animal proteins.
Active kids need plenty of calories to keep going, and carbohydrates are a great place to find them. While chips, sweets and white breads are often popular with younger consumers, parents should steer them toward whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and oats. Crackers, sandwiches made with whole-grain wraps or multigrain bread and even popcorn are great lunch box–friendly options.
Monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids are important for developing brains and bodies. At home, our kids pack their own lunches and regularly like to include olives, chopped avocado and nut butters. Tuna and egg salad also provide these essential fats.
Once your customers have the basics, you can build an endcap showcasing various lunch pack–friendly foods throughout the store. For particularly harried shoppers, I’d love to see stores offer pre-packed, healthy kids’ lunches in their prepared foods section. Here are a few examples of balanced options:
- Almond butter and fruit-preserves sandwich on sprouted-grain bread with a cheese stick and celery stalks.
- Brown rice; curried chickpeas; and salad greens with olives, avocado, olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt.
- Two slices of natural turkey breast, a handful of rice crackers, carrot sticks and grapes.
By providing information and a little help, retailers can play a valuable role in supporting parents as they set their children up for success.