Chef Nick Speros, of Project Bread’s Chefs in Schools Initiative, has eight tips to help parents pack healthier lunches without spending a lot of extra time or money and, most importantly, that kids will eat.
A recent Tufts University study found that only 27% of lunches parents are packing for kids meet at least three of the five National School Lunch Program standards (requiring one serving each of fruit, vegetable, grain, protein and milk). Not a single one of the 626 children’s lunches in the study fully met the NSLP standards.
As many parents will attest, some of the biggest constraints are time, money and wanting to know that children will actually eat what is packed. To that end, Chef Nick Speros, of Project Bread’s Chefs in Schools Initiative, has eight tips to help parents pack healthier lunches without spending a lot of extra time or money and, most importantly, that kids will eat.
- Switch out your white sandwich bread for whole wheat bread. Whole wheat bread typically has more fiber, absorbs more slowly to prevent blood sugar spikes and contains several more vitamins, including folate, riboflavin, B-1, B-3 and B-5.
- Instead of crackers, pack some thin rice cakes (but make sure they don’t have too much sugar). Rice cakes are high in fiber and they are complex carbohydrates, which provide longer-lasting energy than refined grains. And as an extra benefit for teachers, eating rice also produces serotonin, which can improve your kids’ mood.
- Cut up bite-sized, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Produce that’s in-season both costs less and is at peak nutritional value. You can also freeze your produce, then use it year ‘round without breaking the bank.
*Pro tip: If you want to know what’s in season when in Massachusetts, visit
- Pack some raw green beans as a snack, along with a dip. They’re fun, sweet and crunchy. And they’re even healthier raw than cooked, containing protein, potassium, iron, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E.
- Make your own ranch dressing dip instead of packing store-bought. This recipe is healthier, easy, low-cost and will last a full week.
Click here for Chef Nick's recipe.
- Introduce your kids to hummus. It's high in protein and healthy fats to keep kids full longer, plus it has iron to boost energy, fiber, and many other nutrients. There are a ton of different kinds, so let your kids taste test and see which they like best. Kids are more likely to eat foods when they feel like they’ve been an active part of the process.
- Buy a chicken breast at the start of the week, broil or grill it, then cut thin slices for sandwiches instead of buying deli meat. Your kids will be eating much less processed food, getting more protein and fewer fillers.
- Create a make-your-own burrito box with healthy ingredients. You can use leftover chicken from a meal earlier in the week, toss in a whole wheat wrap, chop up some veggies, add some cheese and put it all in separate containers so your kids can put together their own meal. Kids love to help make their own food and doing so often makes them more invested in eating it.
Nick Speros is a long-time chef and father of three with a passion for feeding people and caring for children. He’s a graduate of the Culinary Arts program at Newbury College with a minor in Elementary Education from Lesley University. He’s an award-winning chef who has worked at Aquitaine Restaurant in Boston, Soma in Beverly, Eat in Somerville and owned 197 East Main in Gloucester.
Speros is now one of Project Bread’s resident Chefs in Schools — a program that places professional chefs in dozens of schools to help train kitchen staff how to prepare healthier, cost-effective meals that kids like to eat. He is also one of the co-authors of Project Bread’s Let’s Cook Healthy School Meals Cookbook, which offers more than 100 recipes specifically for schools; each recipe is designed to tempt students into eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while reducing salt and dairy fat, in accordance with the newest USDA standards.
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