Back-to school time sneaks up on all of us and is always busy with activities. Parents as well as children are on-the-go and need simple ways to prepare nutritious lunches. Keeping food allergies in mind, here are some pointers on how to make lunch stress-free.

Lunches should contain healthy fats, complex carbs and quality proteins.

Generally, carbs and fats are not a problem but the average school lunch is woefully short on protein. And protein is the very nutrient that feeds the brain and gives our kids stamina.

When choosing a protein for lunch, think about quality. Commercially available lunchmeat is generally high in “bad” fat and low in quality protein. Instead, aim for sliced chicken or turkey breast, nut butters or egg/tuna salad. All of these are more nutrient dense and without the harmful additives that give lunchmeat that long shelf life.

The most economical way to provide the family with quality lunch meat is to roast a chicken breast, turkey breast or beef roast on the weekend, and use it to provide lunches for the entire family throughout the week. Slow cookers are another easy way to prepare these meats for weekday lunches; they are easy, cheaper, and healthier than store bought meats.

Most of the carbs that students grab consist of simple carbs and sugar.

Sugar reduces immunity for up to four hours after ingesting it—not a good strategy for the germ-heavy environment that the average school building is the colder months. Sugar also diminishes brain function. One study done with military cadets had them tested before and after a snack that consisted of 12 oz. of soda and a cupcake. Yep, you guessed it—after the snack their performance on the very same test dropped an average of a grade and a half!

So try to steer your kids towards more complex carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bread or wraps, rye crackers and sweet potato (even fries) rather than white. If you have a child who is eliminating gluten, there are now many excellent and tasty choices in breads and crackers. Some of our favorites are the Udi’s and Rudy’s bread products, which include hamburger and hotdog rolls and bagels, and crackers such as Nut Thins, Crunchmaster, and Absolutely. Additionally, the tastiest gluten-free pasta is the brown rice pasta at Trader Joe’s.

The complex carbohydrates also help prevent the extreme highs and low in blood sugar that contribute to moodiness, fatigue and brain fog. Combining quality proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats assures a nice steady supply of fuel for our kids’ brains, which translates into happier, more productive students.

When it comes to fat, think about the healthier