As families get ready to head back to school, it’s time to start thinking about all those essentials your kids will need throughout the new year: clothing and shoes, school supplies, immunization updates, vision and dental checkups and healthy lunches.

Creating healthy, delicious lunches for your family is easier than you might think. More importantly, the benefits of a well-balanced and nutritious lunch can greatly influence the growth and development of your children.

For example:

Calcium: Low-fat yogurt, cheese and milk help keep bones healthy now and as your kids grow. Calcium also helps promote healthy nerve and muscle function. If there is a lactose intolerance in the family, broccoli, oranges and almonds are good replacements.

Iron: This nutrient is needed to make red blood cells, which in turn deliver oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency has also been linked to anemia, which can result in fatigue, weakness and irritability. Try creating a chilled bean and pea salad. Peas are loaded with iron, and the dish also offers a healthy dose of protein. A pre-packaged salad is another way to get some iron-rich leafy greens in their system.

Essential fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids help regulate the nervous system, may strengthen the cardiovascular system, improve the immune system and aid in the body’s absorption of nutrients. Incorporating salmon into your adult lunch isn’t too difficult. But what about the kids? Walnuts (2.3g) are a great alternative to fish. When mixed with dried fruit, they become a great sweet treat that also packs in essential nutrients.

 Use a few of these ideas to think outside the lunch box:

Variations on the PB&J: Switch to a whole-wheat bread and instead of jelly, slice some strawberries, bananas or apples to layer with the peanut butter.

Finger foods: Skip the sandwich and load up on some easy finger foods like raw vegetables, cubed fruit, low-fat cheese cubes and almonds.

Upgrade your salad: Take the pre-made salad up a notch by adding sunflower seeds, dried fruit and a little ham or turkey.

Wrap it up: Tired of the same old sandwiches? Try them as a wrap and then cut them into bite-size pinwheels for a fun twist.

Visit HLMS.com for some quick and easy lunch recipes the whole family can enjoy.