For me one of the toughest things about back to school is what to pack for lunch. You’ve all seen the meme; what lunches look like at the beginning of the year – nice, healthy sandwiches, gorgeous fruit and water. And what they look like at the end of the year – packaged cheese slice, some peanuts and a gatorade. I try really hard each year to make the right choices in our kids’ lunches everyday.
I keep it simple – protein, carb, fruit, veggie, treat and drink. I used to challenge myself to only pack a turkey sandwich once a week (I know I’m crazy like that) but I wanted to be creative and give them something that they wouldn’t throw away.
I would spend hours looking at websites that used bento boxes, cookie cutters and edible pens to make lunches look fun. I tried a few ideas but it was too much work. Again, I try to keep it easy.
So here’s some tips for making healthy and delicious meals you’re kids will eat at the lunch table.
Get a cool container – One thing I loved about the bento box idea is the awesome containers you can get to put it all in. You fill in each compartment with something good and good for you. Here’s a fun website with lots of ideas for filling up those compartments.
Serve Leftovers – This is my biggest and favorite tip. I spend a lot of time creating a weekly menu, grocery shopping and cooking nutritious dinners most nights. OK last night we had In-N-Out but it was Back to School night and it was late and it was hot! Don’t judge. If I’m already slaving over a hot stove why not just make more of what I’m making and serve it to the kids for lunch? It doesn’t have to be the next day. Save it for later in the week. Use some of that leftover chicken to make quesadillas or chicken salad. Use the meatballs from spaghetti night in meatball subs, add a little cheese and melt in the broiler or microwave. It’s all good.
Let them choose for themselves – My kids are older and are making their own lunches these days. I try to stock the kitchen with good for you foods so when they are packing their lunch boxes in the morning I know they can only make good choices. Plus if they are choosing, you know they will eat it – or you hope they will. If you’re kids are still little let them choose one thing to put in their lunch box. The key is to have healthy choices available for them.
Make a homemade treat – I know you didn’t come here for a lecture but let’s be real; pre-packaged foods are not good for us. Convenience does not equal nutritious, usually. I try to make homemade cookies, bread or granola on the weekends and send that as their treat to school. It’s a little something special and you know what’s in it. Bonus points for letting your kids help make it.
Think outside the box – I was at Trader Joe’s the other day doing my usual
sampling shopping and I saw the lavash on the bread aisle. My kids love wraps so I picked up a package and made turkey and avocado wraps for lunch. What about a hummus and veggie wrap, or a pizza wrap? Make mini pizza on english muffins or send waffles, sausage and fruit for lunch. It’s something different that might get them excited and get you out of a rut.
Little bites – I used to think i had to pack a big lunch for my kids, especially my growing boys. But then i realized they don’t really spend that much time eating. They sit at the table for the required amount of time and then they are off to the playground to hang out with their friends. I learned to pack little bites of food that they can eat quickly; hard boiled egg, mozzarella sticks, cherry tomatoes and crackers, or mini tortilla roll ups. They can eat a little and save some for later.
Look for ideas online – There is a lot of inspiration out there. Blogs dedicated just to school lunches, You Tube videos with how to’s, and Pinterest boards created for the art of fine lunch dining. When I feel like lunches are lacking I search for inspiration online and I find it. One of my favorite sites is 100 Days of Real Food. It has great ideas for packing school lunches that are healthy and realistic.
Let them eat at school – I don’t do it often but when I need a break or really just don’t have the time, I let them buy their lunch at school. It’s expensive and we rarely do it, but it can be a life saver. At my daughter’s school they prepare the food on site so at least I know it’s fresh. The boys rarely go into the caf (that’s what all the high schoolers call it these days) because they only have 30 minutes to order and eat. But I know it’s there if I need it. Oh and no guilt. I work really hard to provide nutritious lunches most of the time, so a day or two isn’t going to hurt anyone.
There’s a lot to do when school starts; the homework, projects and tests. They need the right nutrition to get them through their day. Make lunch simple, healthy and be prepared.
Share your tips for providing nutritious lunches for your kiddos, young or old.