You’re standing in front of the pantry wondering how to pack a nutritious lunch for your child yet again.
Whether your hangup is lack of time or lack of ideas, continue reading to discover my secret formula for mixing up the lunch menu while keeping it fabulously easy and healthy…
What is the Fab 4?
The Fab 4 is my tried, true and absolutely effective formula for creating blood-sugar-balancing meals. It consists of high-quality protein, fat, fiber and greens.
This powerful combination of food gives your body the nourishment it needs while keeping your blood sugar stable. It’s what I’ve used to help Hollywood A-listers shed unwanted pounds and CEOs operate at optimal energy.
But can I fill you in on a tiny secret?
It’s the same formula I use when packing my son’s lunch. Because the benefits of the Fab 4 are just as big for even the littlest eaters. Let’s take a look at why…
Why the Fab 4 is important for a school lunch:
I use the Fab 4 formula for my kid’s lunch because Fab 4 style eating in children promotes:
- better behavior
- increased mental clarity
- easier learning
- stabler mood
- sustainable energy
- decreased cravings
Let’s take a look at a child’s lunch from a scientific, blood-sugar perspective. His meal may consist of an Uncrustable, a couple Oreos, a few pretzels and some grapes. Add a juice box, and you’ve achieved a very typical American kid-style lunch.
Here’s what I see when I consider the lunch from a blood sugar perspective: Four blood sugar spikes in the form of solid food capped off with a blood sugar spiking beverage. And here’s what that can translate to in terms of effect: A burst of energy (blood spike!), which promotes hyperactivity as well as difficulty focusing, following directions or sitting still.
After the blood spike comes the blood sugar crash. And with that can come fatigue, even more difficulty focusing, low energy and moodiness.
Can we all agree that’s not a recipe for learning (or life) success?
Here’s the deal, if this is how your child eats, it’s not time to panic and certainly not something to be ashamed of. On the contrary, it’s exciting to know you can make a few small shifts that might have a massive impact on your child’s mood and health! I want to support you in finding delicious choices your child will love which are an improvement from a scientific, blood-sugar standpoint.
When you use the Fab 4 to compose your child’s lunch box, you’re offering him satiety, stability, elevated mood and mental clarity. The secret is in the formula: Protein + Fat + Fiber + Greens.
Protein + Fat + Fiber + Greens
This fourfold combination keeps your child’s blood sugar off the roller coaster. Instead, it will look like gentle rises and falls, and he’ll enjoy the sense of stability that comes along with it. The Fab 4 is the best tool I know to increase the length of food digestion and thus elongate the blood sugar curve.
Every time I throw together a lunch, I simply make sure I hit all the marks. The food can look different, but the effect will be the same.
What does this practically look like?
It sounds great, doesn’t it?! Offering your child a tool to increase his capacity to learn and behave. But let’s get down to the nitty gritty of what it practically looks like…
Protein is made of amino acids, which comprise the cellular building blocks for the entire body – muscles, skin, hormones, organs, hair, blood and more. It’s ounce-for-ounce the most nutrient-dense of any food, and it’s incredibly important for young, growing bodies!
Easy, convenient and protein-rich lunch ideas:
- Leftovers! Can I be honest? Most of the time, my sons’ lunchtime protein is last night’s dinner. Double the protein for dinner, and you’ll have lunch for the following day! Meatballs, chicken fingers, carnitas or more!
- Be Well Protein Powder - The options are endless in how to use this super clean, minimal-ingredient protein powder. You can take your pick for any different kind of smoothie as well as use it ways beyond the blender. Stir it into yogurt or “faux”-meal or check out this article for how to use my unflavored protein in surprising, creative and super simple ways. How do I pack a smoothie for my child’s lunch, you might wonder? I’ve found it keeps cold and stays yummy in a stainless steel Thermos.
- Canned sardines, salmon or tuna - I like Wild Planet or Safe Catch for clean, high-quality and low/no mercury seafood. Always go for SkipJack tuna, which is lowest in mercury. You can turn any of these canned fish into a salad by mixing them with Primal Kitchen mayo (use code KELLYSFAVORITES) and diced celery or pickles. PS. Keep reading to hear more about Primal Kitchen’s new, improved and easy-to-use squeezable bottles!
- Serenity Kids meat pouches (use code FAB4). These are awesome, as they don’t need to be refrigerated. Serenity offers a variety of options including beef, bison, turkey, chicken or salmon.
- Eggs - Easy and versatile. Hard boiled and sliced. Scrambled and served in a Siete wrap. Made into an egg salad with Primal Kitchen squeezable mayo (use code KELLYSFAVORITES).
- Lunch meat - True Story Foods or Applegate turkey, ham or salami slices are our favorites. Wrap them around a slice of avocado, cheddar cheese or cucumber. Throw them in a Siete tortilla.
- Jerky sticks - Chomps mini beef sticks or Thrive Market beef sticks are a convenient way to get extra protein into your kids lunch box in a pinch.
- Sausages - Teton Waters Ranch Grass Fed Beef original sausages and Fork in the Road Foods lil smokies or hot dogs are always winners for my boys.
- Nuts and seeds - These add extra protein along with some fat. Serve raw nuts and seeds as a DIY trail mix or use nut and seed butters alongside fruits and/or veggies.
- Baked and chilled chicken - Just add a dip or dressing for some fun.
- Dairy - Cheese sticks, cottage cheese or yogurt are all high-protein and nutrient dense options for those without dairy intolerances.
Fats are the most energy-dense of all macronutrients.
They’re also incredibly important for nutrient absorption in the body (especially the important vitamins A, D, E and K!). In fact, a recent Ohio State University study even found the body formed more than 12 times as much vitamin A from carrots when they were eaten alongside avocado (high in fat) versus alone.
Fats slow down digestion, increase satiety, form the building blocks for hormones, and are important for every cell to retain its structure. They’re absolutely essential for childhood growth and well-being.
My favorite fats include include in a lunchbox:
- Avocado - Mashed on toast or a wrap, sliced with a sprinkle of lemon and sea salt, rolled inside a piece of lunch meat
- Guacamole cups - For dipping veggies, meat, Siete wraps or tortilla chips, Simple Mills or Mary’s Gone Crackers.
- Olives - I love buying the individual olive packets from Thrive Market for ease and convenience.
- Olive oil - Drizzle it on leftover roasted veggies or a grain free toast.
- Hummus - Buy individual hummus cups, make your own hummus, or scoop a clean store-bought brand (I like Hope Foods hummus) into a container. My main suggestion is to avoid pre-made hummus that uses inflammatory vegetable and seed oils.
- Nuts and seeds - Go for raw nuts that don’t have oils such as peanut, soybean or vegetable added. You can find these at Thrive Market or through NOW Foods (use code KELLY).
- Nut and seed butters - I add them to smoothies and pour them into a thermos. I also slather these on basically anything! Fruit, wraps, veggies and more! Wild Friends is a great option. For nut-free schools, go for sunflower or pumpkin seed butter. Avoid nut and seed butters with added oils or sugars.
- Tahini - Drizzling anything in tahini makes it ten times more delicious – veggies, meat and even fruits. I have a great garlic tahini recipe. Or opt for a store-bought tahini without inflammatory oils or other additives.
- Healthy oil-based dressings and dips: mayo, ranch, vinaigrettes, Caesar, or other oil-based dressings can be used as your lunchbox fat source, Primal Kitchen dressings (use code KELLYSFAVORITES) are my absolute favorite because they use healthy oils, no added sugars, and have dairy-free options.
- And speaking of Primal Kitchen, they just came out with a squeezable bottle of their best-selling mayo. Mayo is my absolute favorite healthy fat to pair on a sandwich or wrap, and the new squeezable bottle makes lunch-making a cinch! If you’re not a huge mayo-on-sandwich person, I’d still challenge you not to love my mayo-based lemon aioli. Enjoy the convenience of squeezable mayo without the inflammatory seed oils. Use my code KELLYSFAVORITES for a discount!
- Cheese sticks, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and other whole-fat dairy products can be used as healthy fat sources so long as they don’t have added ingredients. extra protein to a meal
- Coconut oil, coconut yogurt or coconut butter are other great fat sources which are fantastic in smoothies. Coconut yogurt can be served with grain free granola, and coconut butter is excellent drizzled over fresh fruit.
Fiber and Greens:
Fiber is such an effective tool for killing cravings and elongating the blood sugar curve by slowing digestion. It keeps your child feeling full, calm and satisfied.
Greens can include plant foods in all colors of the rainbow. What I’m looking for is a non-starchy, polyphenol and antioxidant-rich vegetable that will deliver a punch of vitamins and minerals. Red cabbage or purple kale? Go for it, sister! You’ll find that many foods can double as a great source of both fiber and greens.
What does it look like when your child eats his fiber and greens? It looks like a diverse and healthy microbiome, increased immunity, improved brain health and all the necessary building blocks for a growing body. Fiber can be found in all different types of fruits, vegetables and plant foods.
Here are some of my favorite fiber sources:
- Chia seeds - Make a chia pudding and serve it alongside berries and coconut flakes as a mini parfait.
- Ground flaxseed - Can be stirred into yogurts, pancake batter, even soups and stews.
- Psyllium husk and acacia fiber can be found via NOW Foods. These are great in smoothies, which can be packed in a thermos and sent to school.
- Vegetables with fiber - Broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke, asparagus, carrots to name a few. Serve raw, roasted and cooled, seasoned, steamed, grated into a sauce, with a fatty dip
- Fruits with fiber - Avocado, apples, berries of all kinds, pears, plums and more can be served sliced and fresh, stirred into a chia pudding, alongside a nut butter “dip” or smashed into a gluten or traditional sourdough toast.
- Lentils and beans - Can be added to soups or stews, mashed into a “dip,” made into a salad, smashed and spread on a sandwich or simply served alone. Also, opt for a more fiber-rich lentil pasta over the typical alternatives.
The possibilities are endless, but here are a few of my favorite “greens” options:
- Leftover bulk-roasted veggies - These can be served as-is, drizzled in tahini or other dressing, tossed in olive oil and re-seasoned.
- Greens such as kale, spinach, collards, bok-choy - Saute them, serve them in a wrap, stir them into a meat sauce, blend them into a pesto, drizzle them in dressing.
- Celery, cucumber and carrots can be served raw with a fatty dip or sauce.
- Broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts - Blanched or raw, roasted and cooled or blended into a sauce.
- Mini Romaine hearts - These make super fun “boats” to hold meat, sauce, etc.
- Asparagus - Raw or roasted.
- Seaweed snack packs are an excellent and fun mineral-rich greens option.
- Poshi veggie packs make adding vegetables the easiest!
- Or simply hide the veggies - Try my Kitchen sink muffins, blend some veggies into your meat sauce, or go 50/50 with cauliflower rice and I bet your kiddo will hardly notice. Throw a handful of spinach into the soup or add some chopped veggies into the meatballs. Get creative! I wrote an article on How to Get Your Kids to Eat More Vegetables if you’re still looking for more ideas.
How to Put it All Together
You have the formula (protein + fat + fiber + greens) and you have examples of each piece, but sometimes a girl just needs a good picture of what it looks like all together. Think of the following as examples to inspire versus exact lunches to replicate (of course, you can always do that if you want!).
Here’s a bit of inspo from me and my boys:
- Turkey and avocado roll-up bento box
- Grain-free pizza pocket bento box
- Grain-free California burrito bento box
- Pesto lentil pasta (plant-based) bento box
- Eggs and chia parfait bento box
- Any Fab 4 smoothie in a thermos with some raw nuts and seeds or grain free granola on the side
- Chicken, meatballs or uncured hot dogs dipped in Primal Kitchen (use code KELLYSFAVORITES) barbecue sauce, mustard, ranch or ketchup served alongside sweet potato wedges with a guacamole cup and berries
- Nut and/or seed butters with fresh fruit, breakfast sausages and kale chips
- Big batch veggie-loaded chili or soup (in the slow cooker!) that can be served all week
- Zoodles or lentil pasta with grated carrots, onions, garlic, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, etc. into the meat sauce, and a side of apple slices drizzled in tahini
- Egg or tuna salad (just dice some eggs and toss with Primal Kitchen mayo and a dash of mustard) served with Simple Mills or Mary’s Gone Crackers. Add some leftover roasted veggies and a date snicker.
Tips to make it easier or more enjoyable:
- Wash and chop veggies in advance.
- Meal prep lite throughout the week. Do it with veggies and with your proteins.
- Don’t fear leftovers! They make for some of the best lunches, so always double your dinner the night before and place half in the fridge.
- Involve the kids. Let them choose the veggies, fill their lunch boxes, chop all the things. Basically, whatever you can do to get them involved will actually benefit both of you in the long run.
- Thrive Market makes it easy. Pre-packaged and easy-to-grab but healthy foods. A monthly discounted auto order on your favorites. The best prices on the highest-quality grub. Thrive makes lunch box season a lot lighter on this mama.
Tips for making better food container choices:
I know those Disney character laden plastic containers might garner some points with your little one, but they’re not doing him or her a favor. Plastic containers shed BPS and BPA “forever” chemicals over time. These add to your child’s toxic load and are known endocrine-disruptors. Go for 100% food safe silicone, glass or stainless steel instead of plastic. Here are some of my favorite food containers that are better for your child’s body:
- Austin Baby Co silicone bento box
- Planet Box stainless steel lunch boxes
- Stasher bags
- Bee’s wax wraps
- Yeti water bottles
- Hydro Flask water bottles
- Think Baby sippy cups and containers
- Elk and Friends
- Thermos stainless steel smoothie or soup container
- Be Well Podcast: Revolutionizing the School Lunch System with Barbara Mechura
- Easy button for up-leveling the quality + quantity of your child’s protein: Be Well Protein Powder
- Courses: Fab Four Fundamentals and Fab 4 Parenting
- Read and Learn: Keeping Your Immune System Strong and Healthy All Year Long
- Read and Learn: Balancing Your Kid’s Blood Sugar for Back to School
- Read and Learn: Kelly’s Picks for a Healthy Back to School
- Read and Learn: How I Stock Up My Pantry
Fab 4 formula lunch boxes are a winner all around! With the information above, I’m confident you'll be able to to support your child’s nutrient status and glucose control in the form of a delicious lunch while keeping it easy and simple.
Now that you've got lunch covered, what about snack time? Learn more about my favorite back to school snacks here.