Back to school. Packing low-carb lunches for your little learners

School?! Oh nooooooooes! Picture by Jamie VanEaton

It was June the last time I looked.

With school around the corner, parents are grappling for the first time with students and a low-carbohydrate, and possibly gluten-free lifestyle.

Whereas in the past, we may have looked to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or the school lunches we were used to having kids purchase (what was that batter-fried stuff anyway?), suddenly options might seem dismally limiting for little people whose one-time use of processed products kept life serene, tossing bags of fruit snacks and chips into small sacks along with those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Fear not. As kids grow, life may become more complicated, but lunches just got easier.

In fact, even if your wee ones are abiding by a lower or moderate carb regimen for reasons of health or food intolerances, it is still easy to shuffle them out of the door on time without sacrificing your sanity.

1. Ban the bread. Whether there is an intolerance to wheat or not, there’s just not enough fiber in bread to keep a young stomach full for an entire day. Add any measurable amount of sugar, and suddenly, bread becomes pals with the glucose, and they happily short-circuit from the small intestines back into the bloodstream, rather than digesting nicely and keeping your child full for the day. Even diet breads tend to contain artificial sweeteners, and since it’s not perfectly known what the long-term ramifications of their use are, it’s better to avoid diet breads altogether.

Instead try… No gluten intolerance? Then look to low-carb burrito wraps and sandwich wraps as a bread substitution. A wrap is a quick and fun way to prepare a sandwich for kids. If you have a child with gluten issues, look, instead, to crispy lettuce wraps, flax muffins, oopsie rolls or flax crackers packed with a Lunchables-type array, with small meats and cheeses.*

2. Skip the chips. It is so easy at 5:30 am, while you’re mind is still attempting to wrap itself around the first cup of coffee, to insert a bag of a processed potato item into lunch sacks. After all, they are potatoes, in some form. Or were. With virtually no fiber to be found in those bags of crisps (only 1.2 grams for 8 ounces), there are better ways to get the crunch on for that many carbs.

Instead try… Fresh vegetables. I know it sounds unromantic, but by letting kids choose which vegetables they want to start, and branching out from there will feel like less of a drudgery. Those bright, colorful carrots and crunchy celery sticks might not seem initially enticing next to Bob’s ruffled potato chips, but veggies contain much more fiber and vitamins per cacophanous bite. Include a high-fat dip or 2 Tbsp peanut butter to add flavor while limiting the condiment.

3. Forget the Fruit Snacks. With a large concentration of high-fructose corn syrup, fruit snacks are not the easy replacement many parents may think they are as a healthy fruit dessert. Carefully molded into shapes like Spongebob Squarepants and in colors so bright Crayola could cringe, these bits of sugared candy are not a fresh and fibrous lunch chaser, containing 15.55 grams of sugar and no fiber per small pouch.

Instead try… Fresh, fruit. Nature’s bounty is pretty amazing. Organic, ripe strawberries (in fact any berries), grapes, cantaloupe and other easy-to-pack fruits make a fantastic finish to fresh fare. Make sure to wash fruit before packing, as little hands will happily pop bits of kiwi into their mouths where once gummy animals peeked out from between teeth. Refrain from fruit juices, which remove the fiber necessary to offset the fructose (which could lend towards hunger later on).

* Keep reading for fun and zippy lunch ideas for kids as they tumble out of the door towards school on their first day.
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