It’s that time of year again. We’re buying school supplies, meeting the new teacher and of course packing lunches! There is always an excitement to the start of school. Parents and kids alike seem to feed off that momentum of a fresh start. Then comes the lull.
I am the same way. I have always enjoyed packing healthy and creative lunches for my son and daughter but I have to admit, sometimes I get stuck in a rut or become uninspired.
In Lunchbox Love, I hope to offer encouragement and creative ideas for lunch packing all year long. Don’t we all want our kids to be excited to open their lunchbox at school AND actually eat it?
Putting together healthy and fun lunches while using wholesome foods that your kids will enjoy can be challenging for a number of reasons. Time seems to be one of the biggest obstacles. Think about what time of day is best for you to pack lunches. I like to pack mine during the day, while my kids are at school, or while I am cooking dinner. For some it might be easier after your kids are asleep. Having lunches ready to go before you wake up seems to be the key, as mornings are rushed and chaotic. At least they are in my house!
Packing lunches should be a give-and-take with your kiddos. Ask them for ideas or to pick the fruit or vegetable they want and then you fill in the rest. As they get older, encourage them to assemble sandwiches and work together with you as a team. The goal is to continue these healthy habits as they become more independent.
The first step in packing your kids’ lunch is finding the right lunchbox! I suggest you reach for a bento box-style lunchbox. There are many to choose from at varying price points. I find that these lunchboxes force me to think beyond the expensive prepackaged (and most likely processed) snack bags and treats. Not to mention it saves the environment from tons of plastic baggies. Look in your fridge and find a fruit and vegetable. I always pack these in my kids’ lunches. Adding a dip for those veggies such as homemade ranch with Greek yogurt or hummus just might do the trick! Exposing your kids to these types of healthy foods is an important step when teaching them to make healthy choices. It is all about giving them exposure to new, healthy options. As we know, with kids it can take up to 10 to 15 times trying something for them to decide they like it, so don’t give up!
My next step is to focus on the “main dish.” This could be a sandwich, rollup, quesadilla, etc. And this is where things can become monotonous but I have some ideas to help you think outside the bread box! My kids love a rollup. Sometimes this is just turkey or ham rolled up with some cheese. They also love flatbread or tortillas rolled up with traditional deli meat, but you could also roll up hummus and cucumbers or add some red peppers. My kids also really adore quesadillas. I make them the night before and cool before packing. Black bean is our favorite, but a quesadilla can be a blank canvas for your favorite filling so get creative.
Kids love to play with their food, so sometimes I put meat, cheese and cherry tomatoes on a kabob (use cocktail stir sticks or even straws if you are worried about them poking themselves or their lunch neighbor.)
One of my all-time favorites is breakfast for lunch—it’s a great way to get away from the traditional lunch offerings. We always have homemade waffles in the freezer. I cut them in strips, provide pure maple syrup for dipping and add a peeled hardboiled egg or yogurt.
Variety is key to having kids enjoy their lunch. Different flavors and textures can really create a new and exciting lunch every day. Adding something with a little crunch is great. It can be as simple as tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole or try kale chips!
My kids love something sweet, as do I! A few healthier options could be a slice of banana bread, a muffin or a no-bake energy bite. Also, it is always fun to surprise them from time to time with a homemade cookie, a piece of chocolate or even a treat from their Halloween basket! One thing that brings back childhood memories is a sweet treat to finish off my meal.
I hope these ideas motivate and inspire you to start packing healthy lunches that you can feel good about. Remember: Be creative with the “main dish” and textures, provide fruits and veggies, and end it with a sweet treat. Just knowing that they will have a smile on their face when they open their lunchbox will warm your heart!
Always be thinking of your kids’ age and development; this will help with portion sizes and how small pieces need to be for easy chewing and swallowing. On the other end of the spectrum, my middle-schooler wants a plain navy lunchbox, larger portions and nothing cutesy!
Did you just pull out last year’s lunch carrier and find it needs a little TLC? Next time your kid brings home their soft-sided lunchbox and something has spilled just unzip the lunchbox and wash on the delicate cycle in your washing machine, hang to dry, it will be just like new!
Is your child’s school nut-unfriendly? Try sunflower seed butter or use cream cheese or hummus as a tasty spread!