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School Lunches

Last September I had the idea to write about what I pack in my kids’ school lunches. It’s an appropriate topic that a lot of parents are thinking about as the new school year begins. Magazine articles and blogs are brimming with fresh, adorable lunch ideas and we parents are seized by it all. Maybe it’s the smell of freshly sharpened pencils in the air or the realization that we haven’t given a single organized thought to lunch all summer long. But suddenly there is a burst of energy and inspiration and we resolve to make this the year of unforgettable lunches. Then along comes October. Then November. Then December. And before we know it, we’re just trying to get our kids to school on time and fully dressed. Forget adorable lunches. Did they even leave with a lunch today? So it was that I realized talking about school lunches in September could be a little disingenuous and I resolved to write about it in April, when the reality of the school year was fully upon us.

When April rolled around I decided to start taking a quick iPhone picture of our daily lunches. After a couple weeks, here’s what we had to show:

Peanut butter jelly time

As you can see, the truth is that my kids take a PBJ for lunch about 3 times a week. It’s not original. It’s not thrilling. But it’s easy, delicious and economical. To be really honest, most of the lunches I pack for my kids aren’t that original. But they’re tasty, nutritious, cheap and realistic. When it comes down to it, that’s what matters most as I pack their lunches. Here are a few real life lunch tips that help me.

#1: Portioned Packing

I found Rubbermaid Lunch Blox a few years ago and I love them. They’re sized perfectly for my kids’ appetites, are dishwasher friendly, save money over disposable sandwich bags, and help me visually plan out each day’s lunch. On days that I pack something with meat or cheese, they have a handy reusable frozen compartment that keeps the lunch cool. Best yet, they allow me to pack perfect portions of items that we buy in bulk like pretzels, carrots, and dried fruit.  

#2: Keep It Whole

Studies prove that whole grains are essential to keeping us full and aiding digestive health. Choosing to buy whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and whole grain tortillas is one of the simplest steps you can take to improving your child’s nutrition. I know that when my kids eat whole grains in their lunches they’ll have enough energy to sustain them throughout their school day.

Tuna salad on crackers, carrots, raisins, apple straws

#3: Go for the Rainbow

For kids especially, the visual appeal of food can positively impact how willing they are to eat it. I believe that in a cafeteria beauty pageant full of shiny, crinkly food packages, a naturally colorful fruit salad can hold its own. Usually I first pick what vegetable I’m packing in their lunches and then I try to pick a fruit of a different color. It’s not complicated, but it makes their lunches more beautiful and appetizing. As an added bonus, with more color comes a greater variety of nutrients.

Turkey on whole wheat, raspberries, clementine, carrots, pickle

#4: Stick With What Works

A timed lunch with their peers is not the time to pack foods that your kids won’t eat at home. I try my best to raise adventurous eaters and am grateful that I’ve been successful so far. That said, one of my daughter’s favorite snack foods are dried seaweed sheets. I packed them in her lunch one day and when she came home from school she sadly told me that the boys sitting next to her told her that seaweed was gross, so she didn’t finish it. I asked her if she thought seaweed was gross. She said, “Well, no. I like seaweed.” I reminded her that everyone is allowed to like different foods and if she likes seaweed, then she should eat seaweed. The point is this, the pressure of eating in front of other schoolmates can be tough on kids. If they’ll eat it at home, then pack it in their lunch. But, if your child won’t touch a specific food at home, it’s likely to end up in the trash at school. Dinner time is a great time to introduce new foods and set the example of trying new things, but I keep it tried and true when sending it to school.

On special and rare days I make and pack California rolls. They’re one of my kids’ favorites.

#5 Pack Ahead

School mornings are hectic. I’ve found our mornings go much smoother if I pack most of the kids’ lunches the night before. I wait to pack sandwiches in the morning, but everything else gets packed and prepped and is waiting in the fridge the night before school. In the morning, my kids can grab their stacks of fruits and veggies out of the fridge and load them into their own lunchboxes.

Turkey and cream cheese wrap, carrots, kiwi, pretzels

These simple and real tips show easy ways that you can help your kids have more healthful lunches. Packing lunches doesn’t need to be hard or stressful. With a little planning and effort, you can send your kids to school with delicious lunches all year long.