Packing school lunches can be aggravating. Who wants to pack lunches at the end of a long day… or first thing in the a.m. while you’re trying to get the entire family AND yourself out the door? From not having all their favorite lunch foods, to running out of time in the morning, let’s face it — it’s not the most favorable thing to do as a mom. It’s a daunting task to pack a lunch for every child every day of the week for the whole school year! (That’s a lot of lunches.) Luckily, I’ve got a few tips that can help you from preschool to even middle school and high school lunches that are healthy, quick, easy and fun!
Pros of Packing School Lunches from Home
When packing your children’s lunches, you’re in control of their nutrition and know what they are eating… until the lunch swapping starts, and then they are on their own to make good choices. (Oh, boy!) So, to be absolutely sure my kids are getting the proper nutrition and servings suggested, packing a lunch from home works best for us. A few helpful tips:
- Pack the night before to save time in the morning. I pack ours before I clean up dinner, so technically my husband has to clean up the lunch-prep mess because he’s in charge of dinner dishes… shhhh! Plus, if you pack the night before, it gives you more time for yourself: your morning routine, catching the local news and more than one cup of coffee — nice!
- You know what your kids will and will not eat. So instead of playing the guessing game on whether the school lunch will be their pick for the day, pack what you know they will eat!
- Food allergies. If your child has any food allergies, there really isn’t a guarantee that a lunch from another source is going to be absolutely safe. Packed lunch from home for the win!
Box It Up
Presentation can be the key to children eating! Using a container with lid, like a bento-style box can make for less trash, more organization and more fun for little fingers.
- Try the YumBox brand for easy organization. It’s fun for kids to have compartments with a different food in each.
- Having a variety of finger foods in my kids’ meals have made a huge difference when it comes to “finishing your plate.” Cubed cheese, fruits, veggies, nuts, and crackers make an easy and nutritious “Homemade Lunchable.”
- If you don’t want to shell out $20 on a lunch container, just use a sealed container (like Rubbermaid, see the box below) and add cupcake liners to help organize and separate!
While some kids prefer the same thing every day, others may be okay with a slight switch to their sandwich. Pinterest is my go-to for ideas on “upping” my sandwich game and has wonderful ideas on “non-sandwich” lunches. Try these.
- Use something other than bread, such as 100% whole-wheat tortilla, pita, or lettuce for a wrap.
- Roll the bread and make sandwich “sushi” — try marble rye to make it really fun.
- Use cookie cutters for fun shapes.
- Try a leftover grilled chicken on the sandwich as a switch for lunch meatc
- Peanut-free school? Try cream cheese and natural jam or hummus wraps with veggies.
Dip, Baby, Dip: Game Changer
When plain old veggies aren’t cutting it, try a healthy dip! Or you can make a fruit ‘n’ veggie kabob to make it look more appealing. Try packing these in small containers:
- Low-fat, plain yogurt or peanut butter for fruits
- Hummus, fresh salsa or homemade bean dip for veggie sticks
Prep Ahead of Time
I’m all about meal-prep Sundays. Making lunches and dinners for the week within a short amount if time every Sunday saves time and money! Make these ready to grab ‘n’ go items for you to pack or for the older kids to pack their own lunches:
- Pre-pack fruits and veggies in snack-size baggies and keep them in the fridge.
- Organic yogurts, cheeses, single-serving hummus and peanut butter packs as easy go-to sides.
- Make PB&Js (use whole-grain bread, organic peanut butter and natural or reduced-sugar jams) head of time and freeze them! By the time you have lunch, they are ready to eat.
- Prepackaged items like organic yogurts and juice boxes can be kept in the freezer; put them in the lunch box before the kids head out the door, and they double as an ice pack and are defrosted just in time for lunch!
No More Sugar
Did you notice I didn’t mention packing candy or desserts? Kids today get more treats and candy than any other generation before. Our childhood obesity rate has skyrocketed in the past few years, and if we don’t do something now, we are killing our future generation with what we are feeding them. According to the American Heart Association, “One in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963.” Children ages 2-18 years old should get no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day, which is only about 6 tsp. There is around 8 tsp in a regular soda… yikes!
As the American Heart Association of the First Coast’s Lead Ambassador, it’s my goal to guide families, especially moms (you are the CHO — Chief Home Officer), on living a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle. I reference heart.org for healthy meals, statistics and advice all the time! It’s become second nature that if I have a question about heart health, this is where I go. I hope you’ve been inspired to packed fun and healthy lunches for your children this school year. It’s not always easy, but in the end, you are Super Mom for giving them the chance to have a yummy, healthy lunch to help them ultimately make healthy decisions on their own.
For more ideas, please watch this segment I recently did on River City Live about packing healthy school lunches: