Pack the Perfect Back-to-School Lunch
Some of the pickiest eaters in the world are under the age of 12, and convincing them to eat healthfully – or even just to eat at all– can be a harder battle to win than grocery shopping on a Sunday afternoon. It’s no secret that kids can be tough to feed, and we’re hoping that these tips will relieve some of the stress by making their back-to-school lunches so fun and unique, they won’t be able to resist finishing every last bite.
Strike the Right Balance
Growing bodies and minds need a nutrient-rich, balanced diet, and school lunches are crucial to this for two reasons. One, school lunches make up five meals out of the week – that’s almost 25% of their diet. Two, lunch takes place in the middle of the day at school, and those hungry little minds need feeding just as much as their bellies do. When packing your child’s lunch, include something from each of these categories to achieve a well-balanced meal every day:
• The Main Dish: This can include sandwiches, quesadillas, mini pizzas, pita & hummus, or any number of mainstays. In general, you want this to cover your ‘protein’ category, so make sure it includes either meat, cheese, fish, tofu, or quinoa.
• Fruits and veggies: These are crucial to a healthy diet. For easy options, send a pre-peeled orange, apple slices (still attached to the core, so it resists browning), or veggies and dip. "Ants on a Log" are a fun choice that requires a little prep, as well as Caprese skewers if your child’s school allows them.
• A snack: Just in case your kid gets a "rumbly in their tummy" at recess, it’s a good idea to pack a little extra for them to snack on. Snacks are an area you can also cover their protein needs in, and aim to offer healthy options, too. Trail mix, a pickle, a hard-boiled egg, and dried fruit are great choices. It’s okay to send other options like pretzels, popcorn, chips, or crackers and cheese, though.
• A treat: This is where you can include something extra yummy (a.k.a. extra sugary), such as cookies, fruit snacks, brownies, or candy. Be careful not to send too much, however, as you don’t want to give your child a sugar rush only for them to 'crash and burn' halfway through their afternoon history lesson.
• Beverage: We highly recommend sending low-sugar drinks, especially when your child will be enjoying dessert with their lunch. Fantastic options include water, low-sugar juice, fruit-infused water, iced tea (caffeine-free), or milk.
Sandwiches don’t always have to be the ‘go-to’ main course. Consider other options that even adults enjoy, such as Bento boxes: an assortment of foods that complement each other, such as meats, cheeses, fruits, and dips. It can also include a staple item, such as bread, and various toppings they can use to build their lunch themselves. A fun example would be a sliced bagel,
pizza sauce, shredded cheese, and your child’s favorite pizza toppings for a mini pizza. The same concept can be applied to mini tacos or salads, too.
Do Fun Stuff
There are so many ideas on Pinterest on how to make school lunches surprising and fun for your child. If it can be served on a stick or arranged to look like a dinosaur, your "cool points" will go through the roof! An awesome tool that we love to achieve fun lunches with ease involves edible markers. Made with food dye, you can write or draw on any food item without risking your child eating something they shouldn’t, like permanent marker. Raw broccoli can now sprout eyes; sandwiches become monsters, and cheese sticks transform into magic wands. What little girl or boy would want to pass that up? Add in the creative uses of cookie cutters and sprinkles, and the options for lunchbox fun are unlimited.
Make Them Feel Loved
Nothing is better than a midday note from Mom (or Dad) letting them know they're loved. Whether the message is written on paper, or on a sandwich bag in permanent marker, these are some of the most treasured keepsakes in any kids’ lunch. We recommend writing as many encouraging, complimenting, or loving notes as you can in one sitting, that way it’s easy to put one in a lunchbox at will throughout the week or month.
Make it Easy For Yourself
Organizing a lunch and preparing all the food involved can be time-consuming, but if you prep for an entire weeks’ worth of meals in one evening, your load will be lighter. Here are a few lunch-packing tips to help make your weekday mornings a little easier.
- Pre-chopping vegetables and fruit in at the beginning of the week means no chopping in the mornings for the rest of it. Just make sure you don’t chop air-sensitive fruits (such as apples) in advance since they’ll brown.
- Cupcake liners turn plain plastic food storage containers into Bento boxes, keeping food items organized and separate.
- If you can freeze their beverage, it will act as the ice pack that keeps their lunch cold through the day. By lunchtime, their drink is thawed enough to consume.
What are some of your go-to school lunch tips and tricks?
Originally published 9/7/2016