Mom Talk: The Lunchbox Lowdown

Studies indicate what’s in the belly affects what’s in the mind.

It might have been the combination of Dippin’ Dots, corn dogs, ice cream and saltwater taffy that made my kids act as voracious as the famed Giant Dipper roller coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk last weekend.

We were there in all our glory, indulging in all the “fruits” of the venue, eating like ravenous pigs. Slurpie stains covered the henna tattoos crawling down our kids’ forearms as they washed those processed, fluorescent-blue liquids down with sticky clouds of multi-colored cotton candy.

The aftereffect was amazing! No listening, no rule-following, manners crashing along the Santa Cruz coastline, coupled with the germs flowing from every ride they enjoyed. The behaviors of our three little angels (tilted halos that day) were definitely something to remember. As a good friend recently said, each experience with kids is “either a good time or a good story.” And as for our jaunt to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, well, it was a bit of both.

Lots of laughs, tons of rides, and we kept going and going… and then we crashed, but not as in the "fell right to sleep" crash. Bedtime was nuts, wired 'til 10 p.m., even though we were home, bathed and ready to slumber by 8 p.m. The kids were spun so tight from a day of sun, fun and noxious overeating, it was no wonder they couldn’t rest their little heads—their brains were working a mile a minute. Stimulation and sugar are never a quick route to Dreamland.

Yes, diet matters. The weekend of carnie-fun fell just before the eve of the first day of school, and I was lucky enough to be assigned an article on how food affects behavior, focus and academic prowess in school. Thank God for that timely cue, as I was reminded that countless studies indicate children act up and have disciplinary problems in school directly after lunch because of the poor food choices that were made at lunchtime.

So, while cruising the aisles of the grocery store that Sunday, I tried to follow my health-conscious list and include all the essentials for a good school day. With each whole-grain and antioxidant, I silently thanked one very smart nutritionist who reminded me how to pack lunches that would provide my kids with the brain-food they need to make the most of their day.

Here are some of the tips I followed in hopes of packing a lunchbox full of nutritious power-foods that I hope will keep my kids full and focused:

- Pay close attention to the balance of your child’s lunch rather than counting calories to ensure you’ve packed a well-rounded meal. Make sure there’s a good balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

- Avoid the empty calories hidden inside juice boxes and offer water instead. If your child doesn’t like water, try flavoring it with fruit or a hint of juice.

- Avoid the dessert in a lunchbox; with so little time for a child to eat lunch, that brownie is more appealing than those apple slices.

- Make things easy to eat, easy to open and easy to consume.

- Include fun finger foods that your child will enjoy eating such as crackers and cheese or cucumbers and hummus.

- Use unprocessed items, avoid those bags of Doritos and Oreos. Instead opt for blueberries and pretzels.

- The more colorful the better. Most natural foods are colorful; choose your items based on this.

- Be creative. Nobody likes the same old sandwich every day. Use last night’s leftover grilled chicken and wrap it up in a whole-wheat pita with some hummus, or make a salad or bean dip.

- Cut up veggies with a hummus or bean dip or fruits with a yogurt dip.

- Be careful about nitrates in lunchmeat and always pack a cold pack with items that need refrigeration such as yogurt or milk.

- Always go for whole grain.

- Nuts, yogurts, cut-up fruits and veggies and cheese make for a very protein-packed lunch.

Happy early-morning packing, moms! 


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