Robin’s Healthy Take: School Lunches

by in Back to School, Robin's Healthy Take, August 15, 2011
egg salad school lunch
Pair egg salad with whole grain crackers for brain-boosting lunch.

Where I live, school starts this week so I need to switch gears from casual summer fare to brain food.  Did I just say “brain food?” Yep, it’s true, certain foods actually improve memory, energy, focus and growth. And these delights all fit in one little lunch bag.

When I plan my boys’ lunches, I always remember this: the optimal meal blends protein and complex carbohydrates. Why? For nutrients and fiber, so the food is digested slowly, providing energy and better motor coordination all afternoon (when they typically have recess and PE). Here are some great options and the science behind them:

EGG SALAD WITH WHOLE GRAIN CRACKERS:

Eggs contain choline, a nutrient that helps brain and memory development (choline is vital for the creation of memory stem cells in the brain; more cells = better memory).

Whole grain crackers boast fiber, which helps maintain a steady stream of energy for hours, and B vitamins which, studies show, improve alertness.

TURKEY WRAP WITH SWISS:

turkey wrap sandwich

Turkey is rich in the amino acid tyrosine, which helps produce brain neurotransmitters that aid alertness and energy.

Cheese is loaded with calcium and vitamin D, both critical for healthy bone growth and development (85% of girls and 60% of boys ages 9-18 don’t get enough).  Calcium also affects how our bodies regulate energy.

Whole wheat tortillas contain fiber and B vitamins (same as crackers listed above).

ROAST BEEF WITH JACK CHEESE AND BABY SPINACH:

roast beef sandwich

Roast beef has iron (important for energy, concentration and mental alertness).  Iron deficiency is the most common nutrition shortfall in kids; even a minor deficiency can cause a decline in cognitive functioning and affects their ability to pay attention.  Lean beef also contains zinc, important for memory.

Spinach also contains iron, plus lutein (which protects the eyes) and vitamin C (which aids iron absorption).

Cheese is crammed with calcium and vitamin D.

Enriched whole wheat bread (I used sandwich thins) has folate, a B vitamin used to manufacture memory cells in the brain, and other B vitamins (same as crackers listed above).

NUT BUTTER SANDWICH WITH ALL FRUIT PRESERVES:

peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Nut butters contain choline (same as the eggs above).

Fruit preserves are brimming with vitamin C, an antioxidant that protects the brain from oxidative stress.

Enriched whole grain bread contains folate and other B vitamins (same as sandwich thins listed above).

On the side:

  • Fresh fruit (berries, citrus fruits, cubed melon, grapes) and sliced bell peppers: These are all loaded with fiber (for long-lasting energy) and antioxidants like vitamin C, which protect the brain’s cognitive function while boosting memory development.
  • Baby carrots: Rich in beta carotene, the pre-cursor to vitamin A, known for promoting healthy eyes and vision.  Carrots also contain brain-protective antioxidants.
  • Pasta salad: Pasta fortified with Omega-3’s promotes cognitive function, brain health and memory (plus fiber for sustained energy).
  • Almonds and/or walnuts mixed with dried fruit: The nuts are rich in choline, protein and Omega-3’s and the dried fruit contains vitamin C and iron.
  • Yogurt with DHA: Contains calcium for healthy bone development and DHA, important for brain development and function (DHA is found in gray brain matter and it’s important for brain cell communication).
  • Water, Water, Water: Even mild dehydration makes kids tired and irritable.  Staying hydrated prevents fatigue and aids concentration all day long.
  • Robin Miller is a nutritionist, host of Quick Fix Meals, author of “Robin Rescues Dinner” and the busy mom of two active little boys. Her boys and great food are her passion. Check her out at www.robinrescuesdinner.com.

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Comments (168)

  1. Great ideas!! And very informative!! Thank you!!

  2. casey says:

    Thanks! As a teacher I always need more ideas for lunch!

  3. Zoey says:

    Thank you so much! These are very good ideas. I LOVE that you include the sides with the meal and detail the bread/condiments and even include a picture! I will definitely be packing this stuff for myself (I don't have kids)

  4. Guest says:

    These are all terrific lunch ideas for my kiddos, however I did have one question since you are a nutritionist… what is your take on nutella? Good, bad, or just sort of in the middle? My kids absolutely love this spread with whole wheat toast or a whole grain english muffin, and are always asking for it at the grocery. I hate saying no to something they love so much (not to mention that I also sneak in a little on my english muffins now and again..) but, as a nutritionist, what would you say about the overall health benefits of this spread?

    • Healthy Eats says:

      great question about Nutella/chocolate-hazelnut spread! we have a piece coming out in the next few days about this spread, so stay tuned!

  5. […] Food Network Where I live, school starts this week so I need to switch gears from casual summer fare to brain food.  Did I just say “brain food?” Yep, it’s true, certain foods actually improve memory, energy, focus and growth. And these delights all fit in one little lunch bag. […]

  6. Jenn says:

    Great ideas! Love the "brain food" concept. Will definitely be packing these in the kids' lunches!

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